Sep 28, 2021
Military Leaders, Gen. Milley Testify on Afghanistan Exit: Full Hearing Transcript
Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during a Senate hearing on September 28. Milley addressed his calls with China. Read the transcript of the hearing below.
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Mr. Reed: (00:10)
Let me call the hearing to order. First, an administrative action. Since a quorum is now present, I ask the committee to consider a list of 2,993 pending military nominations. Included in this list is the nomination of General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, U.S. Air Force, for a reappointment to the grade of general, and to be commander of U.S. Transportation Command. All these nominations have been before the committee for the required length of time. Is there a motion to favorably report this list of 2,993 pending military nominations at the Senate. Is there a second? All in favor, please say aye.
Speaker 1: (00:50)
Mr. Reed: (00:51)
The motion carries. Thank you. Good morning. The committee meets today to discuss the end of American military operations in Afghanistan. After early 20 years of war, enormous sacrifice by American and coalition military, diplomatic and intelligence personnel and vast [inaudible 00:01:10] investment, the Afghan state has failed and the Taliban has taken control. We need to understand why and how. As part of this hearing, we will seek to understand the factors that contributed to the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country and the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and security forces. While there is a temptation to close the book in Afghanistan and simply move on to long term strategic competition with China and Russia, we must capture the lessons of the last two decades to ensure that our future counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere continue to hold violent extremists at bay. I tell you that much of this hearing will focus on our final months in Afghanistan.
Mr. Reed: (01:53)
I think it is equally important, however, that this committee takes a step back and examines the broader two day mission that shaped the outcome we face today. Our withdrawal this summer and the events surrounding it did not happen in a vacuum. The path that led to this moment was paved with years of mistakes from our catastrophic pivot to Iraq, to our failure to handle Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, to the flawed Doha agreement signed by president Trump. The members of this committee and the witnesses before us have oversee seen chapters of war that span four presidential administrations, both Democratic and Republican and we owe the American people an honest accounting. I hope that this hearing will be frank in searching so the future generations of Americans will not repeat our mistakes. Our witnesses today are Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and General Frank McKenzie, Commander of US Central Command. I welcome each of you and thank you for your many years of service.
Mr. Reed: (02:56)
I also want to commend and thank our military men and women for their heroic efforts to evacuate more than 124,000 American citizens, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and other at risk Afghans over 17 days in chaotic and perilous conditions. A remarkable accomplishment. We especially honor the brave American service men and women were killed and wounded while selflessly protecting those seeking safety. So how did we get here? There are countless decisions and factors that could be pointed to, but I would highlight a few that clearly paved the way. Early in the war, we did achieve our original counter-terrorism objective of significantly degrading Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Over time, however, that mission morphed into convoluted counter insurgency and nation building. While the US presence in Afghanistan drew down significantly over the last few years, the lack of a defined strategy continued to erode the mission. One of the clearest inflection points was the ill fated decision to go to war in Iraq. Just as we began to achieve momentum in Afghanistan, the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq drew critical resources, troops and focus away from the Afghan theater.
Mr. Reed: (04:10)
Our best opportunity in Afghanistan was squandered and we weren’t able to get back on track. Throughout the war, we were also unsuccessful in dealing with Pakistan support to the Taliban. Even as American diplomats sat down with Pakistani leaders and our forces cooperated on counter terrorism missions, the Taliban enjoyed sanctuary inside Pakistan with time and space to regroup. Where recently the Taliban’s resurgence can be tied to the flawed Doha agreement, which then President Trump signed in 2020. This deal negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban without our coalition allies or even the Afghan government present promised the end of the entire international presence in Afghanistan, including contractors critical to keeping the Afghan Air Force in the fight with virtually no stipulations. The Taliban with momentum on the battlefield and no incentives onto the Doha agreement used the final year of the Trump administration to boldly escalate violence and begin its faithful March toward Kabul.
Mr. Reed: (05:14)
Despite colossal efforts over multiple administrations, both Democratic and Republican, we were unable to help build an Afghan government capable of leading its people nor an Afghan security force capable of defeating the Taliban. Afghan soldiers fought bravely in the face of massive casualties, but faced with the loss of American military support and hamstrung by corruption within, they were unable to stand on their own against Taliban forces. Secretary Austin, General Milley, General McKenzie, you have each led troops in combat in Afghanistan, commanded at the theater level and advised our nation’s top leaders on our Afghanistan strategy. You have played significant roles throughout this war, and I hope that you are forthcoming in your answers today. To begin, I would ask that you provide an accounting of the intelligence and other key assessments that factored into your judgments about the viability of the Afghan government and Afghan forces and how those trends changed over time.
Mr. Reed: (06:12)
I’d like to know any lessons you have identified for how we can more effectively work by, with and through partner nation forces in the future. Additionally, I would like to understand what factors you attribute to the Taliban’s success and whether we missed indicators and warnings of their imminent takeover. Finally, while we have transitioned our military from Afghanistan after largely achieving our counter-terrorism objectives, we must continue to ensure that Afghanistan can never again be used as a base for terrorist groups to conduct operations against the United States and our allies. We must remain vigilant about these threats and ensure that we establish an effective counter terrorism architecture moving forward. To that end, I would ask that you update the committee on your plans for over-the-horizon counter terrorism operations. The United States faces new and evolving threats around the world.
Mr. Reed: (07:03)
To overcome them we must first understand what went wrong to our mission in Afghanistan and learn from those missteps. We owe it to the American people. I want to thank you again for being here this morning. And I look forward to your testimony. Now, before I turn to the Ranking Member Inhofe, for the benefit of my colleagues, because we have two rounds of open testimony and a closed session following, I will strictly enforce the five minute limit allowed for each member. I intend to recess at 1:00 PM for lunch and promptly resume at 1:30 PM. I would, again, remind my colleagues that there will be classified briefing immediately following the open session in SVC 217, the office of Senate security. Again, before I turn to Ranking Member Inhofe, I want to note that the rules of the committee state that witness testimony should be sent to the committee 48 hours in advance.
Mr. Reed: (07:57)
And it is customary that at the latest testimony arrives the afternoon before the hearing. I am disappointed that the statements of our witnesses were not sent to the committee until late last evening, giving center to the staff very little time to review. I hope that when these witnesses appear again before this committee, they will follow the committee rules and customs. Now, let me turn to Ranking Member Inhofe.
Mr. Inhofe: (08:21)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let’s make sure everyone understands that the five minute limit doesn’t affect opening statements. Let me say a little bit stronger the statement that was made by our chairman, that there’s no reason in the world that they waited until late last night to send this information to us. All these members, they want to be well informed and they didn’t have that opportunity. Want to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to our service members and our veterans, our men and women in uniform bravely volunteer to go into harm’s way for one reason, to keep their fellow Americans safe. They represent our very best. Especially want to recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their families. On August 26th, we were reminded so painfully of what we ask our troops and their families to do. They laid it all in the line for this country. Those 13 men and women died trying to evacuate their fellow Americans and at risk Afghans from Kabul under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Mr. Inhofe: (09:38)
So I want to be perfectly clear the frustration on this committee about the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan is not, and should never be directed towards our troops. It was present Biden and his advisors who put them in that situation. Even worse, this was avoidable. Everything that happened was foreseen. My colleagues on this committee, and the commanders in charge, we saw it coming. So we were here today to understand what happened and why that advice was ignored. General McKenzie you said in February before the president decided to fully withdraw from Afghanistan, “You have to take a condition based approach.” You expressed your concern about, quote, about actions that the Taliban had taken up until this point, meaning that the Taliban was not constraining Al-Qaeda as it had agreed to do so under the conditions base agreement that it signed with the Trump administration. That it was a condition based statement in position.
Mr. Inhofe: (11:01)
Around the same time, General Miller, who was then the commander of the US Forces Afghanistan advised his chain of command to keep approximately 2,500 troops in the country. He warned that the Taliban might otherwise take over. General McKenzie, you offered a similar warning when you last testified before this committee in April right after the president made his decision to withdraw. You said, “My concern is the ability of the Afghan military to hold the ground that they are now on without the support that they have been used to for many years. Throughout the spring, we saw many districts quickly fall to the Taliban, many without firing a shot. This is why I urged President Biden in June to rethink his approach and maintain a small force in Afghanistan in order to prevent the collapse we ultimately saw.” It was also why the members of this committee on both sides of the aisle spent months urging the administration to evacuate Americans and our Afghan partners sooner.
Mr. Inhofe: (12:20)
But President Biden and his advisors didn’t listen to this combat commander. He didn’t listen to Congress and he failed to anticipate what all of us knew would happen. So in August we all witnessed the horror of president’s own making. Afghans died as they desperately gripped into the departing flights. The Taliban is in a stronger position than had been in 9/11. The terrorists [inaudible 00:12:54] members are in senior government positions. We went from, we will never negotiate with terrorists to, we must negotiate with terrorists. In the years that I’ve been here, we’ve heard that over and over again, you don’t negotiate with terrorists and now it’s required. Worst of all, 13 brave Americans were killed in the evacuation effort. Three days later, the Biden administration said it struck an ISIS operative. In fact, it killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children. And then President Biden concluded the draw down by doing the unthinkable.
Mr. Inhofe: (13:39)
He left the Americans behind. The men and women who served in uniform, there are heroic families and American people who deserve answers. How did this avoidable disaster happen? Why were Americans left behind? President Biden’s decision to withdraw has expanded the threat of terrorism and increased the likelihood of an attack on the homeland. The administration is telling the American people that the plan to deal with these threats is something called over-the-horizon counter terrorism, and that we do these types of operations elsewhere in the world. That’s misleading at best and dishonest at worse. There is no plan. We have no reliable partners on the ground. We have no bases nearby. The Afghan government is now led by terrorists with long ties to Al-Qaeda and we’re at the mercy of Pakistan government to get into the Afghan airspace. Even if we can get there, we can’t strike Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan because we’re worried about what the Taliban would do to the Americans who are still there and Americans are still there.
Mr. Inhofe: (15:02)
The administration needs to be honest because President Biden’s dishonest decision, the terrorists threat to American families is rising significantly while our ability to deal with these threats has declined decidedly. We will have another hearing with experts, witnesses on Thursday. That’s just two days from now. We understand the under secretary of defense, Colin Kahl, has agreed to testify in that hearing. So today is really just a start. So in conclusion, I would just like to say this, President Biden made a strategic decision to leave Afghanistan which resulted in the death of 13 US service members, the deaths of hundreds of Afghan civilians, including women and children, that’s what terrorists do, and left American citizens surrounded by the very terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. And they’re still there. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Reed: (16:15)
Well, thank you very much Senator Inhofe. Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley, the Doha agreement [inaudible 00:16:26]. Excuse me, we want to give you an opportunity to have opening statements as I’ve been reminded. So General Austin, you’re recognized.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (16:40)
Chairman Reed, Ranking Member Inhofe, members of this committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss our recent draw down in evacuation operations in Afghanistan. I’m pleased to be joined by Generals Milley and McKenzie who I know will be able to provide you with additional context. I’d like to make a few points before turning it over to you and to them. And first I want to say how incredibly proud I am of the men and women of the US Armed Forces who conducted themselves with tremendous skill and professionalism throughout the war, the draw down and the evacuation. Over the course of our nation’s longest war, 2,461 of our fellow Americans made the ultimate sacrifice along with more than 20,000 who still bear the wounds of war. Some of which cannot be seen on the outside. And we can discuss and debate the decisions, the policies and the turning points since April of this year, when the president made clear his intent to end American involvement in this war.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (17:49)
And we can debate the decisions, over 20 years, that led us to this point. But I know that you agree with me that one thing not open to debate is the courage and the compassion of our service members, who along with their families served and sacrificed to ensure that our homeland would never again be attacked the way it was on 9/11. I had the chance to speak with many of them during my trip to the Gulf region a few weeks ago, including the Marines who lost 11 of their teammates at the Abbey gate in Kabul on the 26th of August, and I’ve never been more humbled and inspired. They are rightfully proud of what they accomplished and the lives they saved in such a short span of time. In fact, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about that issue of time. The reason that our troops were able to get there so quickly is because we planned for just such a contingency. We began thinking about the possibilities of a non-combatant evacuation as far back as this spring.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (18:55)
Indeed, by late April two weeks after the president’s decision, military planners had crafted a number of evacuation scenarios. In mid-May I ordered Central Command to make preparations for potential NEO. And two weeks later, I began pre-positioning forces in the region to include three infantry battalions. And on the 10th of August, we ran another tabletop exercise around a non-combatant evacuation scenario. We wanted to be ready and we were. In fact, by the time that the state department called for a NEO, leading elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit were already on the ground in Kabul. And before that weekend was out another 3000 or so ground troops had arrived including elements of the 82nd Airborne. But let’s be clear. Those first two days were difficult. We all watched with alarm, the images of Afghans rushing the runway in our aircraft. We all remember the scenes of confusion outside the airport.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (19:57)
But within 48 hours, our troops restored order and process began to take hold. Our soldiers, airmen and Marines in partnership with our allies and partners and our State Department colleagues secured the gates, took control of airport operations and set up a processing system for the tens of thousands of people they would be manifesting unto airplanes. They and our commanders exceeded all expectations. We planned to evacuate between 70 and 80,000 people. They evacuated more than 124,000. We planned to move between five and 9,000 people per day. On average, they moved slightly between more than 7,000 per day. On military aircraft alone, we flew more than 387 sorties averaging nearly 23 per day. At the height of this operation and aircraft was taking off every 45 minutes. And not a single sortie was missed for maintenance, fuel or logistical problems. It was the largest air lift conducted in US history and it was executed in 17 days. Was it perfect? Of course not.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (21:21)
We moved so many people so quickly out of Kabul that we ran into capacity and screening problems at intermediate staging bases outside Afghanistan. And we’re still working to get Americans out who wish to leave. And we did not get out all of our Afghan allies enrolled in a special immigrant visa program. We take that seriously, and that’s why we’re working across the interagency to continue facilitating their departure. Even with no military presence on the ground, that part of our mission is not over. And tragically lives were lost. Several Afghans killed climbing aboard an aircraft on that first day. 13 brave US service members and dozens of Afghan civilians killed in a terrorist attack on the 26th. And we took as many as 10 innocent lives in a drone strike on the 29th. Non-combatant evacuations remain among the most challenging military operations even in the best of circumstances. And the circumstances in August were anything but ideal.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (22:27)
Extreme heat, a land locked country, no government, a highly dynamic situation on the ground and an active, credible and lethal terrorist threat. In a span of just two days from the 13th to the 15th of August, we went from working alongside a democratically elected longtime partner government to coordinating wearily with a long time enemy. We operated in a deeply dangerous environment, and it proved a lesson in pragmatism and professionalism. We learned a lot of other lessons too, about how to turn an air force base and cutter to an international airport overnight and about how to rapidly screen, process and manifest large numbers of people. Nothing like this has ever been done before and no other military in the world could have pulled it off. And I think that is crucial. Now, I know that members of this committee will have questions on many things, such as why we turned over Bagram Airfield and how real is our over-the-horizon capability, and why didn’t we start evacuations sooner, and why didn’t we stay longer to get more people out?
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (23:40)
So let me take each in turn. Retaining Bagram would’ve required putting as many as 5,000 US troops in harms way just to operate and defend it. And it would’ve contributed little to the mission that we’ve been assigned and that was to protect and defend the embassy, which was some 30 miles away. That distance from Kabul also rendered Bagram of little value in the evacuation. Staying at Bagram even for counter-terrorism purposes meant staying at war in Afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do. As for over-the-horizon operations, when we use that term, we refer to assets and target analysis that come from outside the country in which the operation occurs. These are effective and fairly common operations. Indeed, just days ago, we conducted one such strike in Syria, eliminating a senior Al-Qaeda figure. Over-the-horizon operations are difficult, but absolutely possible. And the intelligence that supports them comes from a variety of sources and not just US boots on the ground.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (24:51)
As for when we started evacuations, we offered input to the State Department’s decision, mindful of their concerns that moving too soon might actually cause a very collapse of the Afghan government that we all wanted to avoid. And that moving too late would put our people and our operations at greater risk. And as I said, the fact that our troops were on the ground so quickly is due in large part to our planning and our pre-positioning of forces. And as for the missions end, my judgment remains that extending beyond the end of August would’ve greatly imperiled our people and our mission. The Taliban made clear that their cooperation would end on the 1st of September. And as you know, we faced grave and growing threats from ISIS-K. Staying longer than we did would’ve made it even more dangerous for our people and would not have significantly changed a number of evacuees we could get out. Now, as we consider these tactical issues today, we must also ask ourselves some equally tough questions about the wider war itself and pause to think about the lessons that we have learned over the past 20 years.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (26:06)
Did we have the right strategy? Did we too many strategies? Did we put too much faith in our ability to build effective Afghan institutions, an army, an air force, a police force and government ministries? We helped build the state, Mr. Chairman, but we could not forge a nation. The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases, without firing a shot, took us all by surprise, and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise. We need to consider some uncomfortable truths. That we didn’t fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in the senior ranks. That we didn’t grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders. That we didn’t anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commanders struck with local leaders in wake of the Doha agreement. And that the Doha agreement itself had a demoralizing effect on Afghan soldiers.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (27:13)
And finally, that we failed to grasp that there was only so much for which, and for whom many of the Afghan forces would fight. We provided the Afghan military with equipment and aircraft and the skills to use them. Over the years, they often fought bravely. Tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police died. But in the end, we couldn’t provide them with the will to win, at least not all of them. And as a veteran of that war, I am personally reckoning with all of that. But I hope, as I said at the outset, that we do not allow a debate about how this war ended to cloud our pride in the way that our people fought it. They prevented another 9/11. They showed extraordinary courage and compassion in the war’s last days and they made lasting progress in Afghanistan that the Taliban will find difficult to reverse and that the international community should work hard to preserve.
Sec. Lloyd Austin: (28:11)
Now our service members and civilians face a new mission, helping these Afghan evacuees move on to new lives and new places. And they are performing that one magnificently as well. I spent time with some of them up at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst just yesterday. I know that you share my profound gratitude and respect for their service, their courage and professionalism. And I appreciate the support that this committee continues to provide them and their families. Thank you.
Mr. Reed: (28:40)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. General Milley, I believe you have a statement.
Gen. Milley: (28:45)
Chairman Reed, Ranking Member Inhofe, and thank you for the opportunity to be here with Secretary Austin and General McKenzie to discuss Afghanistan. As you mentioned upfront, we submitted matters for the record, lengthy statement of this cutdown oral version. And I know it got to you late. During the past 20 years, the men and women of the United States military along with our allies and partners fought the Taliban, brought Osama bin Laden to justice, denied Al-Qaeda sanctuary and protected our homeland for two consecutive decades. Over 800,000 of us in uniform served in Afghanistan. Most importantly, 2,461 of us gave the ultimate sacrifice while 20,698 of us were wounded in action and countless others of us suffer the invisible wounds of war. There’s no doubt in my mind that our efforts prevented an attack on the homeland from Afghanistan, which was our core, original mission.
Gen. Milley: (29:51)
And everyone has served in that war should be proud. Your service mattered. Beginning in 2011, we sternly drew down our troop numbers, consolidated and closed bases and retrograded equipment from Afghanistan. At the peak in 2011, we had 97,000 US troops alongside 41,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan. 10 years later when Ambassador Khalilzad signed the Doha agreement with Mullah Baradar on 29, February, 2020, United States at 12,600 US troops with 8,000 NATO and 10,500 contractors. This has been a 10 year multi administration draw down, not a 19 month or 19 day NEO. Under the Doha agreement, the US would begin to withdraw its forces contingent upon Taliban meeting certain conditions, which would lead to a political agreement between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan. There were seven conditions applicable to the Taliban and eight conditions applicable to the United States. While the Taliban did not attack US forces, which was one of the conditions, it failed to fully honor, any, any other condition under the Doha agreement.
Gen. Milley: (31:22)
And perhaps most importantly, for US national security, that Taliban has never renounced Al-Qaeda or broke its affiliation with them. We the United States adhered to every condition. In the fall of 2020 my analysis was that an accelerated withdrawal without meeting specific and necessary conditions risks losing the substantial gains made in Afghanistan, damaging US worldwide credibility, and could precipitate a general collapse of the ANSF and the Afghan government resulting in a complete Taliban takeover or general civil war. That was a year ago. My assessment remained consistent throughout. Based on my advice and the advice of the commanders, then Secretary of Defense, Esper, submitted a memorandum on nine November recommending to maintain US forces at a level between about 2500 and 4500 in Afghanistan until conditions were met for further reduction. Two days later on 11, November, 2020, I received an unclassified signed order directing the United States military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan no later than 15, January, 2021.
Gen. Milley: (32:48)
After further discussions regarding the risks associated with such a withdrawal, the order was rescinded. On 17 November we received a order, to reduce levels to 2,500 plus enabling forces no later than 15 January. When president Biden was inaugurated, there were approximately 3,500 US troops, 5,400 NATO troops and 6,300 contractors in Afghanistan with a specified task of train, advise and assist along with a small contingent of counter terrorism forces. The strategic situation at inauguration was stalemate. The Biden administration through the National Security Council process conducted a rigorous interagency review of the situation in Afghanistan in February, March and April. During this process, the views of the joint chiefs of staff, all of us, the CENTCOM commander, General McKenzie, the [US 4A commander 00:33:49], General Miller and myself were all given serious consideration by the administration. We provided a broad range of options and our assessment of their potential outcomes. The cost benefit, risk to-
Gen. Milley: (34:03)
… of their potential outcomes. The cost, benefit, risk to force, and risk to mission were evaluated against the national security objectives of the United States. On 14 April, the president announced his decision, and the US military received a change of mission to retrograde all US military forces, maintain a mall contingency force of 600 to 700 to protect the embassy in Kabul until the Department of State could coordinate contractor security support, and also to assist Turkey to maintain the Karzai International Airport, and transition the US military to an over-the-horizon counterterrorism support and security force assistance. It is clear, it is obvious the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted with the Taliban now in power in Kabul. Although the NEO was unprecedented, and is the largest air evacuation history evacuating 124,000 people, it came at an incredible cost of 11 Marines, one soldier, and a Navy corpsman. Those 13 gave their lives so that people they never met will have an opportunity to live in freedom.
Gen. Milley: (35:12)
And we must remember that the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organization, and they still have not broken ties with Al-Qaeda. I have no illusions who we are dealing with. It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban can consolidate power, or if the country will further fracture into civil war, but we must continue to protect the United States of America and its people from terror attacks coming from Afghanistan. A reconstituted Al-Qaeda or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility, and those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months. That mission will be much harder now, but not impossible, and we will continue to protect at the American people. Strategic decisions have strategic consequences. Over the course of 4 presidents, 12 secretaries of defense, 7 chairman, 10 CENTCOM commanders, 20 commanders in Afghanistan, hundreds of congressional delegation visits, and 20 years of congressional oversight, there are many lessons to be learned.
Gen. Milley: (36:24)
Two specific to the military that we need to take a look at, and we will, is did we mirror image the development of the Afghan National Army? And the second is the rapid collapse, unprecedented rapid collapse, of the Afghan military in only 11 days in August. However, one lesson must never be forgotten. Every soldier, sailor, airmen, and Marine who served there in Afghanistan for 20 consecutive years protected our country from attack by terrorists. And for that, they should be forever proud, and we should be forever grateful. Thank you, Chairman. And if I could, I know that there’s some issues in the media that are of deep concern to many members on the committee, and with your permission, I’d like to address those for a minute or two. Again, I’ve submitted memorandum for the committee to take a look at.
Mr. Reed: (37:16)
You may proceed.
Gen. Milley: (37:19)
Mr. Chairman, I’ve served this nation for 42 years. I’ve spent years in combat, and I’ve buried a lot of my troops who died while defending this country. My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give. My loyalty is absolute, and I will not turn my back on the fallen. With respect to the Chinese calls, I routinely communicated with my counterpart General Li with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight. I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense guidance, the policy dialogue system. These military-to-military communications at the highest level are critical to the security of the United States in order to de-conflict military actions, manage crisis, and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world’s most deadliest weapons. The calls on 30 October and 8 January were coordinated before and after with Secretary Esper and Acting Secretary Miller’s staffs and the interagency.
Gen. Milley: (38:33)
The specific purpose of the October and January calls were generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States. I know, I am certain, that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese, and it is my directed responsibility, and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary, to convey that intent to the Chinese. My task at that time was to de-escalate. My message, again, was consistent. Stay calm, steady, and de-escalate. We are not going to attack you. At Secretary of Defense Esper’s direction, I made a call to General Li on 30 October. Eight people sat in that call with me, and I read out the call within 30 minutes of the call ending. On 31 December, the Chinese requested another call with me. The deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia Pacific policy helped coordinate my call, which was then scheduled for 8 January, and he made a preliminary call on 6 January.
Gen. Milley: (39:47)
11 people attended that call with me, and readouts of this call were distributed to the interagency that same day. Shortly after my call ended with General Li, I personally informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call, among other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting Secretary Miller, where I briefed him on the call. Later that same day on 8 January, Speaker of the House Pelosi called me to inquire about the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president. I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, and he doesn’t launch them alone, and that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.
Gen. Milley: (40:51)
There are processes, protocols, and procedures in place, and I repeatedly assured her that there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized, or accidental launch. By presidential directive and secretary defense directives, the chairman is part of the process to ensure the president is fully informed when determining the use of the world’s deadliest weapons. By law, I am not in the chain of command, and I know that. However, by presidential directive and DOD instruction, I am in the chain of communication to fulfill my legal statutory role as the president’s primary military advisor. After the Speaker Pelosi call, I convened a short meeting in my office with key members of my staff to refresh all of us on the procedures which we practiced daily at the action officer level. Additionally, I immediately informed Acting Secretary of Defense Miller of Speaker Pelosi’s phone call. At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself in the chain of command. But I am expected, I am required, to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed on military matters. I am submitting for the record a more detailed and unclassified memorandor that I believe you all now have, although late, and I welcome a thorough walkthrough on every single one of these events. And I’d be happy in a classified session to talk in detail about the intelligence that drove these calls. I’m also happy to make available any email, phone logs, memoranda, witnesses, or anything else you need to understand these events. My oath is to support the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic, and I will never turn my back on that oath. I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle, essential to the health of this republic, and I’m committed to ensuring that the military stays clear of domestic politics. I look forward to your questions, and thank you, Chairman, for the extra time.
Mr. Reed: (42:59)
Thank you, General. General McKenzie, I understand you do not have a statement, is that correct?
Gen. McKenzie: (43:05)
Sir, I’ll waive my statement in order to get us back on schedule.
Mr. Reed: (43:08)
Thank you very much, General. Secretary Austin, the Doha Agreement represents direct negotiations with terrorists, and not just negotiations, but an agreement with them that excluded the Afghan government and the allies we’ve been fighting with us now since 9/11. It set a fixed departure date with conditions, has been indicated, were not really followed consistently by the Taliban. As you considered in April what to do, did the intelligence suggest to that reneging on the departure of the troops would lead to significant attacks against American and allied military forces?
Sec. Austin: (44:07)
Chairman, to my recollection, the intelligence was clear that if we did not leave in accordance with that agreement, the Taliban would recommence attacks on our forces.
Mr. Reed: (44:21)
And they would include the blue-on-green attacks and any other means they could use to attack American forces.
Sec. Austin: (44:28)
That’s correct, Chairman.
Mr. Reed: (44:30)
So the choice was, in many respects, was… Were we going to incur additional casualties indefinitely in Afghanistan? That’s one way to look at it. Is that fair?
Sec. Austin: (44:46)
That’s correct, Chairman. You certainly would have to take additional measures to be able to defend yourself if the Taliban recommenced their offensive operations against us.
Mr. Reed: (44:56)
Now, General Milley and General McKenzie, did the Doha Agreement affect the morale of the Afghan forces? I.e., was there a sense now that even though it was months away, that the United States was leaving since we had agreed to leave?
Gen. Milley: (45:17)
I’ll let Frank talk the details, but my assessment is yes, Senator, it did affect the morale of the Afghan security forces.
Mr. Reed: (45:25)
Gen. McKenzie: (45:26)
Sir, it’s my judgment that the Doha Agreement did negatively affect the performance of the Afghan forces, in particular by some of the actions that the government of Afghanistan was required to undertake as part of that agreement.
Mr. Reed: (45:37)
And one of the critical issues was the agreement to withdraw contractors, which are basically the engine that maintains the air force of Afghanistan and many other logistical operations. And that was just as critical as the troop departure, I would assume.
Gen. McKenzie: (46:02)
Chairman, it was. We had plans in place to try to conduct those operations from over-the-horizon. They were not as effective as having contractors on the ground, on site with the aircraft.
Mr. Reed: (46:16)
The momentum appeared to be shifting to the Taliban. Indications were their penetration or parts of the country in the Northern sectors, particularly which traditionally opposed the Taliban, the Northern Alliance… To be fair, that started long before Doha. There are some commentators who have suggested since 2014, the Taliban have been surrounding provincial capitals, insinuating themselves into the politics of the local communities, striking bargains. Is that your impression too, General McKenzie?
Gen. McKenzie: (47:03)
Sir, I think it is a good assessment that from 2014 on, the Taliban did pursue that strategy, and they had some success. Now, the government of Afghanistan also had success holding onto centralized urban areas and population centers, but the Taliban pursued a distinct strategy and had some success with it.
Mr. Reed: (47:21)
Now, General… Excuse me, Secretary Austin, you did provide your best military advice to the president regarding the situation Afghanistan, and has been recounted several times through multiple meetings, and he received advice from many different quarters. Do you feel that you had the opportunity to make your advice very clear?
Sec. Austin: (47:47)
I do, chairman. As I’ve said before, I always keep my advice to the president confidential, but I am very much satisfied that we had a thorough policy review, and I believe that all of the parties had an opportunity to provide input. And that input was received.
Mr. Reed: (48:13)
Thank you very much. Senator Inhofe.
Mr. Inhofe: (48:17)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It was two weeks ago that we had a closed, classified hearing. We had General Miller’s recommendation at that time. Well, let me first of all just mention that during their confirmation process, you committed, and I’m speaking now to General McKenzie and General Milley, to give me your honest and personal views of this committee, even if those views differed from those of the administration, and I’m confident that you will be doing that. During this hearing that we had, it was emphasized to us from General Miller that he was recommending the 2,500 troops in Afghanistan… Now, we didn’t receive the documentation from your offices, I say to the witnesses today, until, well, actually, 10:35 last night. So there really wasn’t time to get into a lot of the details, but I’d ask General McKenzie: Did you agree to the recommendation that General Miller had two weeks ago?
Gen. McKenzie: (49:35)
Senator, again, I won’t share my personal recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. I recommended that we maintained 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time. Those are my personal views. I also have a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually the Afghan government.
Mr. Inhofe: (50:05)
Yes, so I understand that. And General Milley, I assume you agree with that in terms of the recommendation of 2,500?
Gen. Milley: (50:12)
What I said in my opening statement and the memoranda that I wrote back in the fall of 2020 remained consistent, and I do agree with that.
Mr. Inhofe: (50:21)
This committee is unsure as to whether or not General Miller’s recommendation ever got to the president. Obviously, there are conversations with the president, but I would like to ask, even though General McKenzie, I think you’ve all made this statement. Did you talk to the president about General Miller’s recommendation?
Gen. McKenzie: (50:41)
Sir, I was present when that discussion occurred, and I’m confident that the president heard all the recommendations and listened to them very thoughtfully.
Mr. Inhofe: (50:49)
So one of the recommendations that was made by the three of you would be the recommendation that originally was made by General Millers two weeks ago. During the August 18th interview on ABC, George Stephanopoulos asked President Biden whether US troops would stay beyond August 31st if there still Americans to evacuate. President Biden responded, and this is a quote, “If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out.” This didn’t happen. The President Biden’s decision resulted in all of the troops leaving, but the American citizens are still trying to get out. How many American citizens, is your opinion, are still there? Just go down the line, each one of you. Anyone?
Sec. Austin: (51:53)
Senator, I would defer to the State Department for that assessment. That’s a dynamic process. They’ve been contacting the civilians that are in Afghanistan, and again, I would defer to them for definitive numbers.
Mr. Inhofe: (52:13)
Go ahead, others.
Gen. Milley: (52:18)
Same as the secretary just said. There were numbers at the beginning of this whole process with the F-77 report out of the embassy, and we know that we took out almost 6, 000, I guess it is, American citizens. But how many remain-
Mr. Inhofe: (52:33)
Okay. Do all of you agree that Secretary of State Blinken, when he made his analysis as to how many people would be here, would still be there… He talked about the 10 to 15,000 citizens left behind, and then evacuated some 6,000. That would mean a minimum of 4,000 would still be there now. Would anyone disagree with that? By your silence, I assume you agree.
Sec. Austin: (53:07)
I personally don’t believe that there are 4,000 American citizens still left in Afghanistan, but I cannot confirm or deny that, Senator.
Mr. Inhofe: (53:19)
So you think Secretary of State was probably wrong in his analysis. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Reed: (53:24)
Thank you. And just for the record, the chair and the vice chair slash ranking member have each abided by the five-minute rule, so fair is fair.
Sen. Shaheen: (53:35)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Secretary Austin, General Milley, and General McKenzie for being here this morning. And Secretary Austin and General Milley, thank you for your effort to put into some historical perspective what happened in Afghanistan, and for recognizing the incredible service and sacrifice of the troops who serve there. General Milley, in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in June, I explicitly raised concerns about the plight of at-risk Afghans due to our withdrawal, and I asked about the department’s plans to evacuate them.
Sen. Shaheen: (54:15)
Now, you indicated today that you thought we might be facing the kind of desperate situation that we saw in Kabul, but your response at that time was that, quote, “lots of planning was ongoing,” and this is in-quote, “and the State Department was leading efforts pertaining to evacuating our Afghan partners.” And you explicitly told the committee that in your professional opinion, you did not see Saigon 1975 in Afghanistan. So I’m just trying to figure out why we missed… Or from a public perception, it appears that we didn’t anticipate the rapid fall of Afghanistan and Kabul, and the rise of the Taliban, and the way we saw it play out on television. And what did we miss?
Gen. Milley: (55:19)
I think, Senator, we absolutely missed the rapid 11-day collapse of the Afghan military and the collapse of their government. I think there was a lot of intelligence that clearly indicated that after we withdrew, that it was a likely outcome of a collapse of the military and collapse of the government. Most of those intelligence assessments indicated that that would occur late fall, perhaps early winter. Kabul might hold till next spring. It depends on when the intel assessment was written. So after we leave, the assessments were pretty consistent that you’d see a general collapse of the government and the military.
Gen. Milley: (56:03)
While we were there, though, up through 31 August, there’s no intel assessment that says the government’s going to collapse and the military’s going to collapse in 11 days that I’m aware of. And I’ve read, I think, pretty much all of them. And even as late as the 3rd of August, and there’s another one on the 8th of August, et cetera, they’re still talking weeks, perhaps months, et cetera. General McKenzie can illuminate on his own views on the same topic. He gave his assessments at the same time. And although General Miller did, in many, many assessments, say rapid, fast, hard for collapse, he also centered into the October-November timeframe as opposed to August.
Sen. Shaheen: (56:47)
So how do we avoid that happening again?
Gen. Milley: (56:50)
I think the key, Senator, that we missed, frankly… We had some indicators, but we didn’t have the full wholesome assessment, leadership, morale, and will. There were some units, and I don’t want to say negative things about these guys, the 60, 70,000 of the Afghan service that were killed in action over the last 20 years. And many units did fight at the very end, but the vast majority put their weapons down and melted away in a very, very short period of time. I think that has to do with will, leadership, and I think we still need to try to figure out exactly why that was.
Gen. Milley: (57:25)
And I have some suggestions, but I’m not settled on them yet. But we clearly missed that. I think one of the key factors we missed it for was we pulled our advisors off three years ago. And when you pull the advisors out of the units, you no longer can assess things like leadership and will. We can count all the planes, trucks, and automobiles, and cars, and machine guns, and everything else. We can count those from space and all the other kind of intel assets, but you can’t measure the human heart with a machine. You got to be there.
Sen. Shaheen: (57:52)
Thank you. Secretary Austin, I’m about to run out of time, so you may want to respond to this on the next round, but one of the challenges with getting Special Immigrant Visa applicants out of Afghanistan has… And this wasn’t just a problem in the evacuation. This has been a historic problem that has gone over years, has been having the documents that show they actually served with our military, and DOD has been cited as the major problem in getting those documents. So again, how do we make sure that doesn’t happen again in some future conflict, where we need our partners on the ground to serve alongside of our military members? And I’m out of time, so hopefully you will answer that. Thank you.
Mr. Reed: (58:44)
Thank you very much, Senator Shaheen. Senator Wicker, please.
Sen. Wicker: (58:47)
Chairman Reed, before I ask my questions, I have an objection. We’ve been having hearings in a classified setting on this, our first public hearing. And I’m sorry Senator Kaine has had to step away, but in a previous hearing, he expressed frustration in various hearings he had been to, and a frustration that I shared, that when the State Department is here and we ask them a question, they say, “Well, you have to ask the Defense Department that.” And now today, again, Defense Department people are before us, and a question was asked, and the answer to Senator Inhofe as well, “You’ll have to ask the State Department that.” Senator Kaine gently but fatherly sent a message to the administration at our last classified hearing that we need to cut that out, that members of the Defense Department need to be ready for the questions that we have asked and that we’re going to ask, and so I object to the continuation of that in this hearing today.
Sen. Wicker: (59:54)
While I’m at it, I would also point out… General Milley, I appreciate your statement and I’ve read it, and I understand what you’re trying to say, but further than what you mentioned, the allegation is that you told combatant commanders to report back to you. Our clear understanding is that you are not in their chain of command, that they report directly to the commander in chief through the secretary. And so to the extent that you told them to report to you, they were not in your chain of command. Now, let me see if I can get one question in here, having taken two minutes to mention a very important objection. General Milley, in the fall of 2020, you said an accelerated withdrawal would risk substantial gains and damage US credibility, and I want to ask our witnesses about US credibility.
Sen. Wicker: (01:01:08)
On July 8, President Biden said, “The likelihood there’s going to be Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” We now know he was advised actually this might happen. Turns out, it was completely untrue, that statement on July 8th. Later in July, the president of the United States, President Biden, says, “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting the war.” President Biden was wrong on that. We told our interpreters, our drivers, our friends, the people who had had our backs during this entire period of time that we would not abandon them, and that’s exactly what we did.
Sen. Wicker: (01:01:53)
And in an interview, it’s already been referred to on network news, President Biden says, and I quote, “If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay and get them all out.” Two days later, the president of the United States unequivocally said, “Any American wants to come home, we’ll get you home. We’re going to stay and get them out.” The president of the United States, our commander in chief, did exactly the opposite. Now, I think you were right, General Milley, when you advised that our credibility would be damaged. Our credibility has been gravely damaged, has it not, General Milley?
Gen. Milley: (01:02:41)
I think that our credibility with allies and partners around the world and with adversaries is being intensely reviewed by them to see which way this is going to go, and I think that damage is one word that could be used, yes.
Sen. Wicker: (01:02:55)
Yes. And Secretary Austin, no question that this sends a disastrous message to China and Russia. What message does it send to our NATO allies and our other allies around the world about not only our credibility, but our national resolve?
Sec. Austin: (01:03:17)
Thanks, Senator. What the world witnessed is United States military evacuating 124,000 people out of a contested environment in 17 days.
Sen. Wicker: (01:03:32)
Well, you testified that that was a great accomplishment, our withdrawal and our evacuation. What about our credibility?
Sec. Austin: (01:03:40)
As I engage my counterparts, I think our credibility remains solid. Clearly, Senator, there will be people who question things going forward, but I would say that the United States military is one that… And the United States of America, people place great trust and confidence in. And relationships are things that we have to work on continuously, and we understand that and will continue to do that.
Mr. Reed: (01:04:09)
Thank you, Senator Wicker. Senator Gillibrand, please?
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:04:12)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m also very grateful to our service members who committed so much over the last 20 years, and I do want to thank President Biden for taking the tough yet necessary step to stop and end an endless war, something that many of us have pushed for over the last decade. There’s obviously still a lot to do both overseas and here at home, such as ensuring that Afghan refugees are treated respectfully and responsibly, both on the DOD bases, such as ensuring that they can be transitioned into their new lives in the United States. We also have the responsibility to our troops and to all Americans to make sure that we have a complete picture of what we did, accomplished, and happened over the last 20 years across all the administrations. We have to look back so that we can do better when we look forward. One way to do better is to make sure Congress maintains and fulfills its constitutional responsibility.
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:05:10)
We have to put back into the hands of Congress the right and responsibility to declare war. What started as a mission to defeat Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan and the perceived threat in Iraq expanded to 20 years of war in more multiple countries, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and trillions of dollars spent. This is why I introduced the War Powers Reform Resolution, so that Congress can take back this responsibility for the benefit of our service members. Congress must set clear and defined goals for the use of military force abroad, and place a limit to how long, where, and against whom we can continue military action without a new authorization, in order to finally put a stop to endless wars and prevent them in the future.
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:05:50)
Second, there should be a comprehensive, rigorous, and objective audit on the war in its entirety. Over the last 20 years, the United States spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, and we lost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. I commend the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction for its independent and objective oversight of the Afghanistan reconstruction, but I do have questions beyond that. First, General Milley, in your testimony, you said and you mentioned that there are many lessons to be learned. What did you mean by that statement?
Gen. Milley: (01:06:28)
Senator, thank you. I think there’s a series of strategic lessons to be learned, and I would echo some of the ones that Senator Reed mentioned early on, specific military lessons we have to take a hard look at. The United States military was tasked under the 2002 Bonn Agreement to train, man, and equip the Afghan army. The Germans were required to train, man, and equip the Afghan police. As we built that army and all of its components, I think that one error we may have made over time is we made them too dependent on technology, too dependent on our capabilities. We didn’t take in the cultural aspects perhaps as much as we should have, and we mirror imaged, to put it simply.
Gen. Milley: (01:07:10)
I think that’s a big lesson. We’re going to have to take a hard look at it. And the result is when you pull contractors, you pull troops, that, I think, is one of many contributing factors to the rapid collapse. So that’s a big lesson. Another one is the intel lesson that we talked about. I think that’s in the military realm as well as the intelligence community realm. There’s a lot of other lessons, legitimacy of the government, corruption of the government. Those sorts of things are all out there as to why that government collapsed as rapidly as it could, but those are for others to sort out. There’s a specific set of military lessons we need to pull out within the military.
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:07:46)
I’ve read various opinion pieces. I know everyone here is deeply disturbed that the trained Afghan military did not perform as expected. I’d like your thoughts on… If they had performed as expected, would we have seen a prolonged civil war? What is your estimate of-
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:08:03)
… have seen a prolonged civil war. What is your estimate of what the impact of them actually fighting would have been?
General Milley: (01:08:09)
My estimate is if they had performed as we expected them to perform that the government would still be there. They would have probably lost significant chunks of territory, but Kabul would be there in some of the major provincial capitals. But I’d defer that probably you get a more granular view from that from General McKenzie.
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:08:29)
Gen. McKenzie: (01:08:30)
I think had the Afghan military fought, we would have probably seen the approaches to Kabul get into the [inaudible 01:08:37] still under the control of the government of Afghanistan, a lot of the outlying provinces would not have been. But I would just note that it wasn’t so much the collapse of the Afghan military, the collapse of the Afghan government are at large, those two things happen together and they were completely linked together. So when you consider one, I think you have to think about the other.
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:08:57)
Additionally, in retrospect, one of the areas of debate has been whether we should have started our evacuation earlier. And I recognize that the Kabul government asked us not to start our evacuation early. Can you speak to what you now know and whether it would have been a smarter or more effective if we’d started evacuate personnel a year in advance or six months in advance or any time in advance?
Speaker 2: (01:09:24)
Could I ask the Senator?
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:09:26)
I apologize. I didn’t realize my time was expired.
Speaker 2: (01:09:28)
Sen. Gillibrand: (01:09:28)
I’ll submit that for the record.
Speaker 2: (01:09:30)
Thank you very much Senator Gillibrand. Senator Fischer.
Senator Fischer : (01:09:33)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I too would like to thank our military men and women for their dedication to this country, for the sacrifices that they and their families make in any theater of war and make every day for us. But our exit from Afghanistan was a disaster and the missteps that are already outlined had consequences that struck close to home as a Nebraskan, Corporal Dagon Paige, who was one of the 13 service members killed in action. And we should not forget we have the policy discussions here today, but let us remember the human sacrifice.
Senator Fischer : (01:10:18)
We also left American citizens behind. General Milley, in your written testimony, you stated withdraw would increase risks of regional instability, the security of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenals. A global rise in violent extremist organizations. Our global credibility with allies and partners would suffer, and a narrative of abandoning the Afghans would become widespread. Would you agree that all of these things have happened over the last eight weeks are currently happening?
General Milley: (01:10:53)
I think in the main, yes, Senator, most of those are probably happening right now.
Senator Fischer : (01:11:01)
And I hope that we see in the future, military advice having more consideration by the administration on what will happen from what you and General McKenzie have said today.
General Milley: (01:11:18)
If I may, Senator, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the military voice was heard and it was considered.
Senator Fischer : (01:11:25)
It was considered, but not followed, correct?
General Milley: (01:11:30)
Presidents are elected for reasons, they make strategic decisions.
Senator Fischer : (01:11:36)
I would say this committee, General, has always stressed that commanders on the ground should be listened to. Would you agree with that?
General Milley: (01:11:45)
I would, and I would tell you, they were listened too. I think there’s a difference between us having an opportunity to have a voice, and I think it’s very important that the military has a voice, but I firmly believe in [inaudible 01:11:59] control of the military, and I am required and the military commanders are required to give our best military advice, but the decision makers are not required in any manner, shape or form to follow that advice.
Senator Fischer : (01:12:08)
No, they are not am I agree with you about civilian control of this country, but I think it is also important to realize when we continue to see missteps by an administration that’s costing lives. Secretary Austin, it’s been reported right now that the Biden administration reached out to Russia about using Russian basis in the central Asian nations bordering Afghanistan to the North for our strike assets to fly out of over the horizon counter terrorism missions, is that true?
Sec. Austin: (01:12:48)
Senator, this is an issue that I believe came up during a conversation that the President had with President Putin, where President Putin offered to provide assistance.
Senator Fischer : (01:13:05)
But have you reached out to the Russians asking specifically to use bases?
Sec. Austin: (01:13:10)
General Milley just recently had a conversation with his Russian counterpart.
Senator Fischer : (01:13:14)
So the reports are true that have been coming out today?
Sec. Austin: (01:13:18)
I can assure you that we are not seeking Russia’s permission to do anything, but I believe and General Milley can speak for himself, but I believe that he asked for clarification on what that offer was.
Senator Fischer : (01:13:32)
I have a number of questions which I’ll need to get to with General McKenzie about over the horizon and the capabilities as we look to the future, and what’s available there. But I think what we’re seeing in the reports today about asking to use Russian bases, that’s just another example that we see of the Biden administration. They’ve really left us in a terrible position that we have to ask the Russians to be able to protect the United States from terrorists. And we have to ask them to use their installations. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Sec. Austin: (01:14:10)
And I would just reemphasize that we’re not asking the Russians for anything.
Senator Fischer : (01:14:15)
But you’re negotiating and trying to get these bases to be able to use their installations because Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and when we have explanations from the military and they give examples for over the horizon, and use countries like Yemen and Libya and Somalia, that does not take into consideration that Afghanistan is landlocked. And we have to depend on Pakistan to give us airspace to get there. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Speaker 2: (01:14:50)
Thank you, Senator Fischer. Senator Blumenthal, please.
Senator Blumenthal: (01:14:50)
Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And I want to express my hope that this hearing is just the beginning of first step in an in-depth analysis, going not just to the last 10 weeks or even 10 months, but 10 years and longer back, so that we can match the courage of the men and women of America who have sacrificed during this 20 year war. All of them and all of their families, not just in Afghanistan, but around the world and we owe them, veterans of America, much more than we’re giving them right now because they have earned it. That in-depth analysis looking backward is essential, but I want to look forward right now to what is happening in Afghanistan with respect to Americans and our Afghan allies.
Senator Blumenthal: (01:15:49)
After our withdrawal, it was left to an unofficial network, a coalition of veterans, NGOs, some government officials. I was involved in an effort through chartered planes and airports outside of Kabul to try to airlift on a makeshift ad hoc basis, Americans and Afghan allies still there. They have targets on their back, their situation is increasingly urgent and desperate, and I have been frustrated by the lack of someone in charge in lines of authority, a point person. We need an evacuation [zar 01:16:39], somebody who will provide a plan and supervise actions so that we can get out of Afghanistan the Americans that remain there. And I will tell you, we don’t have an estimate on the number because nobody is in charge right now. So let me ask you, Secretary Austin, who at the Department of Defense as overall responsibility with overseeing the effort to evacuate?
Sec. Austin: (01:17:10)
As you know, well, first of all, Senator thank you to you and your colleagues for all that you’ve done to continue to help get American citizens out of Afghanistan. The State Department, following the departure of the military, the State Department remain engaged and continued to work to get American citizens out. And as we’ve seen, some 85 American citizens and 79 legal permanent residents have departed via the Kabul airport and so, that work continues on. The State Department set up a cell to continue this work and develop a mechanism. That cell is headed up by Ambassador Bass.
Sec. Austin: (01:17:57)
As you may recall, Ambassador Bass was one of the senior counselors on the ground at [H Kaia 01:18:03], as we were conducting the investigation. I have a general officer that is a part of that cell and we have reached out to, or Ambassador Bass has reached out to veterans groups and others who may have information that can help us continue to contact and eventually, evacuate American citizens and LPRs. So this work continues and we remain committed to continuing that work until we get out as many American citizens that are willing to come out.
Senator Blumenthal: (01:18:37)
Well, there was a point and you can call it the eye of the storm when the Taliban had taken over the country, but really wasn’t in charge when we could have evacuated a great many more Americans and our Afghan allies, the translators and others, guards, security officers. And I feel that the administration was on notice, in fact, a group of us went to the White House in the spring and urge that there be a plan for evacuation. And unfortunately, the withdrawal prevented there from being anybody on the ground.
Senator Blumenthal: (01:19:21)
And in the wake of that withdrawal, there was a vacuum of leadership, and I would hope that there would be more effective action now to put somebody in charge and develop a plan. Because we know that there are many Americans, whether it’s green card holders or citizens, or others still there. In Connecticut, we have a resettlement organization called Iris [inaudible 01:19:49] who heads it, has told us of individuals who are still there, more than 40 in Kabul and I’m sure other organizations similarly know of such Americans who are still there.
Speaker 2: (01:20:00)
Thank you, Senator Blumenthal. Senator Cotton, please.
Senator Cotton: (01:20:14)
Thank you. General Milley, it’s your testimony that you recommended 2,500 troops approximately stay in Afghanistan.
General Milley: (01:20:27)
As I’ve said many times before this committee and other committees, I don’t share my personal recommendations to the President, but I can tell you my personal opinion and my assessment if that’s what you want.
Senator Cotton: (01:20:35)
General Milley: (01:20:37)
Yes, my assessment was back in the fall of ’20 and it remained consistent throughout that we should keep a steady state of 2,500 and it could bounce up to 3,500, maybe, something like that in order to move toward a negotiated gated solution.
Senator Cotton: (01:20:51)
Did you ever present that assessment personally to President Biden?
General Milley: (01:20:56)
I don’t discuss exactly what my conversations are with the sitting President in the Oval Office, but I can tell you what my personal opinion was and I’m always candid.
Senator Cotton: (01:21:04)
General McKenzie, do you share that assessment.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:21:07)
Senator, I do share that assessment.
Senator Cotton: (01:21:10)
Did you ever present that opinion personally to President Biden?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:21:13)
I’m not going to be able to comment on those executive discussions.
Senator Cotton: (01:21:16)
Did General Miller ever present that opinion personally to President Biden?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:21:19)
I think it’d be best to ask him. I believe that his opinion was well heard.
Senator Cotton: (01:21:24)
Secretary Austin, President Biden last month in an interview with George Stephanopoulos said that no military leader advised him to leave a small troop presence in Afghanistan, is that true?
Sec. Austin: (01:21:42)
Senator Cotton, first of all, I know the President to be an honest and forthright man and secondly- …
Senator Cotton: (01:21:53)
It’s a simple question, Secretary Austin. He said no senior military leader advised him to leave a small troop presence behind, is that true or not? Did officer and General Miller’s recommendations get to the President personally?
Sec. Austin: (01:22:05)
Their input was received by the President and considered by the President, for sure. In terms of what they specifically recommended, Senator, as they just said, they’re not going to provide what they recommended in confidence.
Senator Cotton: (01:22:22)
I mean, it’s shocking to me. It sounds to me like maybe their best military advice was never presented personally to the President of the United States about such a highly consequential matter. Let me move on to another recommendation they are reported to have made. General Milley, Joe Biden has said that it was the unanimous, the unanimous recommendation of the joint chiefs that we not maintain a military presence beyond August 31st. We’ve heard testimony to that effect today as well. When was that unanimous recommendation sought and presented to the President?
General Milley: (01:22:59)
You’re talking about the 31 August?
Senator Cotton: (01:23:00)
Yes, the 31 August deadline for getting [crosstalk 01:23:02].
General Milley: (01:23:02)
So on 25 August, I was asked to make an assessment and provide best military advice.
Senator Cotton: (01:23:09)
Oh, I’m sorry. My time is limited here. You gave me the answer to that I needed to hear. August 25th?
General Milley: (01:23:15)
Senator Cotton: (01:23:15)
Kabul fell on August 15th.
General Milley: (01:23:17)
Senator Cotton: (01:23:18)
You were not asked before August 25th?
General Milley: (01:23:21)
On August 25th, I was asked to provide best military assessment as to whether we should keep military forces passed the 31st.
Senator Cotton: (01:23:27)
Secretary Austin, was anybody asked before August 25th if we should keep troops at the Kabul airport?
Sec. Austin: (01:23:37)
The President tasked us to provide an assessment on whether or not we should extend our presence beyond August 31st. And as General Milley just said, we tasked them to make that assessment on the 25th and he came back and provided his best military advice.
Senator Cotton: (01:23:56)
Secretary, Kabul fell on August 15th. It was clear to members of this committee who were getting phone calls that we have thousands of Americans in Afghanistan behind Taliban lines on August 15th and it took 10 days to ask these general officers if we should extend our presence? I suspect the answer might be a little different if you were asking them 16 days out, not five days out. Again, my time is limited. I want to move on to another matter. President Biden’s botched evacuation screwed things up coming and going as it relates to Afghan evacuees. We left behind thousands of Afghans who serviced along side of us who were vetted and approved to come here.
Senator Cotton: (01:24:37)
We brought out thousands who really have no particular connection about whom we know nothing, and cannot be effectively vetted. You now have female troops who have been assaulted, you have Afghan evacuees committing sex crimes at Fort McCoy. What are we to make of this? What steps are we taking to ensure that thousands of Afghans about who we know nothing are not going to be a menace to our troops and our military bases into the communities into which they’re about to be released?
Sec. Austin: (01:25:07)
Well, Senator, I’m certainly aware of the allegations and I take the allegations very seriously. And I can assure you that our commanders at our bases have what they need to be able to protect our troops and our families that work and live at those bases. And I’m in contact with General VanHerck, the North comm commander who has overall responsibility for the operation on a routine basis. And this is an area that he remains sighted on.
Senator Cotton: (01:25:39)
All right, I’ve just got one final question. General Milley, I can only conclude that your advice about staying in Afghanistan was rejected. I’m shocked to learn that your advice wasn’t sought until August 25th on staying past the August 31 deadline. I understand that you’re the principal military advisor, that you advise, you don’t decide, the President decides. But if all of this is true General Milley, why haven’t you resigned?
General Milley: (01:26:07)
Senator, as a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing and it’s a political act if I’m resigning in protest. My job is to provide advice. My statutory responsibility is to provide legal advice or best military advice to the President and that’s my legal requirement. That’s what the law is. The President doesn’t have to agree with that advice. He doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we’re generals, and it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken. This country doesn’t want generals figuring out what orders we’re going to accept and do or not.
General Milley: (01:26:48)
That’s not our job. The principle civilian control of the military is absolute, it’s critical to this Republic. In addition to that, just from a personal standpoint, my dad didn’t get a choice to resign at Heiwajima, and those kids that are at Abbey Gate, they don’t get a choice to resign and I’m not going to turn my back on them. They can’t resign, so I’m not going to resign. There’s no way. If the orders are illegal, we’re in a different place, but if the orders are legal from civilian authority, I intend to carry them out.
Speaker 2: (01:27:17)
Thank you, Senator Cotton. Senator Hirono, please.
Senator Hirono : (01:27:21)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Do I understand you correctly, General McKenzie and General Milley that your personal recommendation was that the troops who remain in Afghanistan, a certain number of them beyond the August 31st deadline?
General Milley: (01:27:37)
No, Senator. Our recommendation, this was the joint chiefs of staff, this is myself included, General McKenzie, Major General Donahue, the ground tactical commander of the 82nd airborne division, and Admiral Veasley. Every single one of us were in a tank. I brought them up. Secretary Austin did not show up. There’s no political pressure. There’s no expectation of consensus. Every one of us evaluated the military conditions at the time on the 25th, and we made a unanimous recommendation that we end the military mission and transition to a diplomatic mission.
Senator Hirono : (01:28:13)
Thank you. So while you testify that you may have had the personal recommendation and I think in your case, General McKenzie, in the fall of 2020, or it might’ve been General Milley, that by the time we’re evacuating everyone, that was not a recommendation that you personally held [crosstalk 01:28:30].
General Milley: (01:28:30)
Absolutely not. At that point on the 25th of August, no. At the 25th of August, we recommended that the mission end on the 31st.
Senator Hirono : (01:28:36)
Thank you for that clarification.
General Milley: (01:28:38)
Senator Hirono : (01:28:39)
So the evacuation was chaotic and yes, we are really grateful that our military performed magnificently in evacuating over 120,000 people. But Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken acknowledged to my colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that no one believed the Afghan government and military could collapse as rapidly as it did, especially in the first weeks of August.
Senator Hirono : (01:29:12)
However, U.S. forces conducted at least a couple of airstrikes in the middle of July aimed at blunting the Taliban’s rapid advance. So Secretary Austin, in July, you were aware, or the DOD was aware that the situation was deteriorating rapidly by July. Why wasn’t action taken to secure the Kabul airport or retake [inaudible 01:29:39] then?
Sec. Austin: (01:29:42)
Thank you, Senator. You’re right, the tempo at picked up significantly and the Taliban continued to make advances. Our entire chain of command, myself, the Chairman, General McKenzie routinely engaged the Afghan leadership to encourage them to solidify their defensive plans, to make sure that they were providing the right logistics to their troops and further, stiffen their defenses to no avail. And to compound that, President Ghani continued to make changes in the leadership of the military. And this created further problems for the Afghan security forces.
Senator Hirono : (01:30:33)
Mr. Secretary, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but my time is elapsing. So this gets to the overestimation, I think the overly optimistic assessment, because even as late as July, you’re still encouraging the Afghan special forces, you’re expecting the Ghani government to remain, but that was not the case. In December 2019, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. military commanders privately expressed a lack of confidence that the Afghan army and police could ever fend off, much less defeat the Taliban on their own.
Senator Hirono : (01:31:12)
So General Milley, you noted that there were some specific military lessons to be learned. This is not the first time that I think we have relied upon overly optimistic assessments of conditions on the ground or conflict conditions. It certainly happened in Vietnam. So my question to you is what specific steps can we take to make sure that our assessments are not overly optimistic, so we can avoid the reliance on assessments that are not accurate?
General Milley: (01:31:47)
I think in the case of working with other countries’ armies, it’s important to have advisors with those units, so that you can do a holistic assessment of things that are very difficult to measure, the morale factors, leadership will. I think that’s one key aspect. Another part, I think it’s really important, and this is a lesson from Vietnam, and I think today is don’t Americanize the war. We learned that in El Salvador or in Columbia, for example, where we did assist and help other countries’ armies fight insurgencies, and we were quite effective, but it was their country, their army that bore the burden of all the fighting. And we had very, very few advisers and it was quite effective. Now, every country is different, every war is different, it has to be evaluated on its own merits, but I think those are some key points that are worth thinking about.
Senator Hirono : (01:32:36)
I agree. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Speaker 2: (01:32:37)
Thank you, Senator Hirono. Senator Rounds, please.
Senator Rounds: (01:32:40)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, first of all, thank you for your willingness to appear before this committee to answer questions on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. You’ve received and will continue to receive tough questions on what led to this decision. This is an important constitutional requirement of the jobs that you have agreed to serve in, and I thank you all for your many years of service to our nation. I want to underline the fact that every single member of this committee, regardless of party, is grateful for the dedication and bravery exhibited by our service members, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion at Abbey Gate.
Senator Rounds: (01:33:18)
General McKenzie, General Miller told this committee that he recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and this is back in January 2021, because he felt that Afghan forces would not hold out long without our support. It seems to me that there would have been a process to convey General Miller’s recommendation to the President. Can you share the process and who conveyed General Miller’s recommendation and was that recommendation delivered to both President Trump at the time and also, to President Biden?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:33:58)
So there is a process for delivering recommendations to commanders in the field. I was part of that process, while I have been very clear that I won’t give you my recommendation, I’ve given you my view, which I think you can draw your own conclusions from it. My view is that 2,500 was an appropriate number to remain, and that if we went below that number, in fact, we would probably witness a collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan military.
Senator Rounds: (01:34:22)
General McKenzie, I guess my question is would it be fair for the committee to assume that both President Trump and President Biden received that specific information that had been assumed to be delivered by General Miller?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:34:41)
I believe it would be reasonable for the committee to assume that.
Senator Rounds: (01:34:44)
And would General Miller have been able to deliver that directly to the President, or would someone else have had to have delivered that for him?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:34:51)
I would leave it to General Miller to express an opinion on that, but he and I both had the opportunity to be in executive session with the President, and I can’t share anything beyond making that statement.
Senator Rounds: (01:35:00)
Thank you. Secretary Austin, this committee was briefed on the series of rock drills, rehearsal concept drills that examined the many potential scenarios that could arise through the execution of different types of actions and counteractions, [inaudible 01:35:21] by multiple leaders that the worst case scenario, an un-forecasted collapse of the Afghan government was not something that these drills factored in as a possibility. Is it true that we actually did tabletop exercises and we actually went through these drills, and we never assumed that there could be an immediate collapse of the Afghan government?
Sec. Austin: (01:35:43)
We planned for a range of possibilities. The entire collapse of the Afghan government was clearly one of the things that if you look at the intel estimates and some of the estimates that others had made that could happen, but in terms of specific planning, especially with respect to NEO, we planned for a contested environment or an un-consented environment, the requirement to evacuate a moderate amount of people versus a large amount of people. So there was a range of possibilities that we addressed.
Senator Rounds: (01:36:21)
But never with an immediate collapse of the government?
Sec. Austin: (01:36:25)
And we certainly did not plan against the collapse of a government in 11 days.
Senator Rounds: (01:36:29)
Thank you. General Milley, I think Senator Cotton made a very good point with regard to the timing, the collapse of Kabul and the time in which you were asked for your professional military opinion about the path forward, which seems to be the real challenge for many of us. It appears that in your professional military opinion, it would have been prudent to have used a different approach than a date certain with regard to a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Senator Rounds: (01:37:04)
And if that is correct, and if there were other alternatives presented to the President, I’m certain that the frustration that you felt in not having your professional military advice followed closely by an incoming President, that you were then tasked in a very short period of time with handling what was a position in time for the people that were on the ground there to respond in an emergency basis. Would it be fair to say that you changed from a longterm plan of gradual withdrawal based on conditions to one in which you had to make immediate changes based upon a date certain?
General Milley: (01:37:49)
Senator, as a matter of professional advice, I would advise any leader, don’t put dates certains on end dates, make things conditions based. Two Presidents in a row, put dates on it. My advice is don’t put specific dates, make things conditions based. That is how I’ve been trained over many, many years. With respect though, to the 31st and the decision on the 25th, the risk to mission and the risk to force and most importantly, the risk to the American citizens that are remaining, that was going to go up, not down on the 1st of September, and the American citizens, I know there’s American citizens there, but they would have been at greater risk had we stayed past the 31st in our professional opinion.
Senator Rounds: (01:38:44)
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Speaker 2: (01:38:46)
Senator Kaine, please.
Senator Kaine : (01:38:47)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. To the witnesses. I want to return to a point that Senator Wicker made. I informed a DOD witness about 10 days ago that we would expect to answer to the question of how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, and that we would not appreciate an answer that that was deferred to State. I’m going to ask the question during my second round of questions after lunch and with the number of staff who are here in this room and in the ante room, we ought to be able to get an answer. And if we can’t, it will suggest to the committee, and I don’t think you want to suggest this to the committee that you don’t want to be responsive to that question, or that you don’t talk to the State Department, or that the number of Americans in Afghanistan is something that you’re indifferent to.
Senator Kaine : (01:39:29)
I don’t think any of those are true. So I’ll ask the question again after lunch, and I hope we can get an answer. Two compliments and then a critical observation and inquiry. First, thanks to President Biden for ending the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan after 20 years, it took guts and it was the right thing to do, and it should have been done earlier. A Virginia service member, whose wife is expecting, said this to me recently, “I’m so glad that my baby is not being born into a country at war.” Some want us to sustain on permanent war footing in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some will point out that U.S. troops are still deployed, still in harm’s way, still carrying out limited militarized strikes around the world.
Senator Kaine : (01:40:08)
But to the families of those who have been deployed over and over again into Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of the last 20 years, they are relieved that America is now turning the page and rejecting the notion that we should be a nation in permanent war. Second, the effort to evacuate more than 120,000 people to safety under chaotic circumstances was remarkable. I visited the Dallas Expo Center, the principle arrival point for about 80% of the Afghans. I also visited Fort Lee, the first of the eight forts that processed Afghans, and I visited with Afghans, our troops, the many federal agencies working together, MGOs. The competent and compassionate service on the American side and the deep gratitude among Afghans made a deep impression on me. We should do all we can to make that transition to safe life in America as productive as possible. My chief criticism and question is this, why did the Afghan security force and civilian government collapse so quickly and why did the U.S. so overestimate their capacity? The second half of the question, why we overestimated their capacity is very important. To any who have said, we couldn’t see this coming, the members of this committee know that’s wrong. An immediate collapse may not have been the most likely outcome, but we have heard for years, particularly from the intel community, that DOD estimates of Afghan strength were way too optimistic.
Senator Kaine : (01:41:28)
I believe that the U.S. government had a good evacuation plan, but it was premised on an Afghan civilian and military government that showed high resistance to the Taliban. And so, we did not adequately plan for the real possibility of a quick collapse. We need to explore both military and inter-agency decision making processes to understand why we were unrealistic and how to correct that going forward. But the most important part of the question is why a military we had trained for 20 years at a cost of $800+ billion dollars collapse so quickly? I can think of three reasons, but after I put them on the table, I would like each of you beginning with General …
Senator Kaine : (01:42:03)
Sense of it. After I put them on the table, I would like each of you beginning with General McKenzie to address the question. And if we can’t, we can do it. When we come back after lunch first, the lightning collapse may show that our training was insufficient, and that it did not prepare the Afghan military to defend the country on their own. That should have been our goal, but we failed to accomplish it. If so, how must we change our thinking about training foreign militaries?
Senator Kaine : (01:42:25)
Second, the lightning collapse may not prove that the NSF were poor fighters, but that they were demoralized. Did they lack confidence in their own political and military leaders? Were they demoralized by a 2020 piece agreement between the US and the Taliban that didn’t even include the Afghan government? Mr. Chair, like to introduce the peace agreement for the record?
Mr. Chair: (01:42:45)
Senator Kaine : (01:42:46)
Did US and allied funding deepen a culture of corruption that long predated our involvement? Even the best fighting force may give in if they have no confidence in their leadership.
Senator Kaine : (01:42:56)
Third, the lightning collapse may show that we wanted things for Afghans that Afghan leadership did not want for themselves. We celebrated gains in public health and women’s education, and we assume that Afghans would fight to preserve those gains rather than allow the Taliban to take over. In other words, we thought we knew what Afghans wanted, what they feared, and what they would fight for. But was our belief though, well intentioned, incredibly naive? We can’t get one third of Americans to take a COVID vaccine, or accept the results of a presidential election. Do we really think we can transform the culture of another nation? So to each of our witnesses, when we return in the second round, I will ask you this question: why do you believe the Afghan military and civilian government collapsed so quickly. With that I’ll yield back, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair: (01:43:44)
Thank you very much. Senator Kaine. Senator [Ernst 01:43:47], please?
Senator Ernst: (01:43:47)
Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here today. And unfortunately, this morning’s hearing is required due to the haphazard withdrawal of US forces, American citizens, and many of our Afghan partners. However, we do want to thank the men and women in uniform that assisted the evacuation of those that were able to make it out, and of course, to those that have given their service and sacrifice over the past two decades of the global war on terror.
Senator Ernst: (01:44:22)
The loss of our service members, an abandonment of Americans and Afghan allies last month was an unforced, disgraceful humiliation that didn’t have to happen. The President put a cheap political victory, a withdrawal timeline time to the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on his calendar and executed his vision with little regard for American lives or the real threats that we face.
Senator Ernst: (01:44:47)
I do appreciate your open, your honest and expert participation in communicating to this committee, what went wrong. I think our American citizens are at a real crossroads right now where they are questioning the leadership from this President and this administration. President Biden’s BLS can’t be erased, but the United States must now account for them through a revamped counter-terrorism strategy that recognizes the newfound momentum of terrorists and new threats emanating from the Middle East, in addition to rising challenges that we see coming from China and Russia. Pretty high stakes. Secretary Austin, I’d like to start with you. Did President Biden or any of his national security advisors express, any military or diplomatic conditions for the American withdrawal from Afghanistan beyond the looming date of 9/11? What were those military conditions or diplomatic conditions that were outlined to you?
Sec. Austin: (01:46:01)
Again, once the President went through a very deliberate decision making process and made his decision to exit Afghanistan, there were no additional conditions placed on it.
Senator Ernst: (01:46:15)
Can you tell me that he did take into consideration military, or diplomatic conditions and what were those conditions that he was weighing as he was making those decisions?
Sec. Austin: (01:46:28)
Sure. One of the things that all of us wanted to see happen was, for this conflict to end with a diplomatic solution. And so, one of the thing that we certainly wanted to see was progress being made in the Doha negotiations. And we did not see, or he did not see any progress being made, and there was really not much of a bright future for that process.
Senator Ernst: (01:46:58)
So General Milley had stated earlier that his recommendation is always as any military commander should do, should be conditions based. And we have to be able to evaluate whether those conditions are achievable, and if we can successfully complete those. It sounds like there were very little consideration given to diplomatic or military conditions. The diplomatic, again, going to conditions based ,the diplomatic end to it. I think General Milley, you also said that the military mission would end on the 31st, and transition to a diplomatic mission. But I don’t understand how we fulfill a diplomatic mission after August 31st, when there are absolutely no diplomats on the ground in Afghanistan. They’re gone. They’ve been evacuated. Who do we hand that mission off to when there’s nobody there to complete it? So can you then say that the President directed you, Secretary Austin to execute an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan? Unconditional. August 31st, done.
Sec. Austin: (01:48:18)
Once he made the decision to withdraw, I mean, that was the decision, to leave. And we certainly wanted to make sure that we shaped conditions so that our embassy could maintain a presence there, and continue to engage the government of Afghanistan. So protection of the embassy was pretty important.
Senator Ernst: (01:48:40)
Yes, Secretary Austin, you are extremely diplomatic in your answers. I can appreciate that, but this was not a conditions based withdrawal. And I think all three of you have stated that you made your best opinion known to the President of the United States. He had no conditions other than to get our people out of Afghanistan, which he failed at, because we still have Americans as well as Afghan partners in Afghanistan. Thank you, Mr. Chair, I yield back.
Mr. Chair: (01:49:12)
Thank you. Senator Ernst. Senator King, please.
Senator King: (01:49:16)
Thank you, Mr. Chair, I’m finding this a very interesting hearing. It’s really two hearings at once. One is on the question of, should we leave Afghanistan? And if we shouldn’t, what should be the nature of our troop commitment and our commitment to the country? The other is the withdrawal, which I thought was the subject to the hearing. The decision to leave Afghanistan was made by President Trump in his administration on February 29th, 2020, where we committed to leave by a date certain. There was a particular provision or a condition, if you will, about negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. There was even a date specified; March 10th, 2020, less than two weeks after the signing of the Doha Agreement. Clearly that condition was not met.
Senator King: (01:50:06)
My question is, and General Milley, you were the only one who overlapped the two administrations. Were there any efforts on behalf of the prior administration to enforce that condition of negotiation with the Afghan government and the Taliban?
General Milley: (01:50:25)
Senator, as I said in my opening remarks, the conditions that were required of the Taliban, none of them were met except one.
Senator King: (01:50:34)
My question is, did we attempt to enforce those conditions? Did we inform the Taliban, for example, we won’t advocate for the release of 5,000 prisoners, unless you begin negotiations or something similar?
General Milley: (01:50:47)
I don’t have personal knowledge of that, whether or not [inaudible 01:50:51] or others were personally saying that, I don’t have personal knowledge of that, but I do know that none of the conditions were met except the one which, “Don’t attack American forces and coalition forces.” That condition was-
Senator King: (01:51:03)
The conditions were not met, but you testified that the troop withdrawals and the release of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners did proceed, even though the conditions had not been met, is that correct?
General Milley: (01:51:14)
That is correct.
Senator King: (01:51:15)
And you’ve testified you provide your invested military advice to President Biden, that there should be a residual force left in Afghanistan. Did you provide the same advice to President Trump when they were negotiating the Doha Agreement?
General Milley: (01:51:28)
Again, I’m not going to discuss precise advice.
Senator King: (01:51:31)
Was it your best military judgment that a residual force-
General Milley: (01:51:34)
At that time, yes. And that’s what that a series of memos, and advice and meetings, et cetera, in the September, October timeframe, that’s exactly what they were. And you can talk to Secretary Esper, He can tell you the same thing.
Senator King: (01:51:46)
So your military judgment didn’t change on January 20th.
General Milley: (01:51:50)
Senator King: (01:51:51)
Thank you. General McKenzie, you touched on something that you were the only one to mention it in this entire hearing. In my judgment, one of the key moments was the fleeing of President Ghani. And that is in fact, what really pulled the rug out from under the military, and demoralized the entire government. That was really, not the beginning of the end; the end of the end, do you have some thoughts on that?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:52:18)
I think, when we consider what happened to the Afghan military, you have to consider it completely linked to what happened to the Afghan government. And when your president flees literally on no notice in the middle of the day, that has a profoundly debilitating effect on everything else. Now, events were pretty far along on 15 August, so I would note that it, but I do believe it is possible. They could have fought and held parts of cobble had the president stayed. I think that really demoralized those remnants of Afghans, and there were still considerable Afghan combat formations around Kabul on 15 artists. I believe they were really disorganized by that, and led to the Taliban really pushing in as fast as they wanted to go into the center of the city.
Senator King: (01:53:01)
I do want to point out for the record that, to my knowledge and memory, this committee never had a hearing on the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in February of 2020. And it now appears that would’ve been a beneficial hearing because we could have discussed all of these issues but we were already on the path for withdrawal. And the withdrawal date under that agreement was May 1st, 2021. President Biden extended that, I don’t know whether it was a negotiation or some kind of understanding until the end of August. General Milley, in questioning from Senator Cotton, you talked about your military advice about leaving on August 31st, versus staying to try to help additional Americans leave, was it the unanimous recommendation of the joints chiefs that the August 31st date should be observed? And if so, why was that the military advice?
General Milley: (01:54:00)
It was of the joint chiefs plus General McKenzie, Admiral Valey and General Donahue. And the reason is risk to force risk, to mission and risk to the American citizens. On the 1st of September, we were going to go to war with the Taliban, of that there was no doubt, and we were already in conflict with ISIS. So at that point in time, if we stayed past the 31st, which militarily is feasible, but it would’ve required an additional commitment of significant amounts of forces, probably 18th Airborne Corp. 15, 20, maybe 25,000 troops, we would had to re-seize Bagram, we would’ve had to clear Kabul of the 6,000 Taliban that were already in Kabul. That’s what would’ve happened, beginning on the 1st. And that would’ve resulted in significant casualties on the US side, and it would’ve placed American citizens that are still there at greater risk, in my professional view, and in the view of all the other generals. So on the 25th, we recommended that we transition to a diplomatic option beginning on the 31st.
Senator King: (01:54:59)
Thank you general. Thank you.
Mr. Chair: (01:55:00)
[crosstalk 01:55:00] Thank you, Senator King. Senator Tillis, please?
Senator Tillis: (01:55:03)
General Milley, you said that the Taliban had not lived up to the terms, the agreement, give me a rough date of when they first breached terms of the agreement? When you said they were not living up to the terms of the Doha Agreement, what was the first evidence that they were not living up to the terms of the agreement?
General Milley: (01:55:20)
Yeah, the memo signed 29th February, so through, really the fighting season of the summer ’20. One of the requirements, for example-
Senator Tillis: (01:55:29)
Okay. So more than a year ago?
General Milley: (01:55:31)
Senator Tillis: (01:55:32)
Okay. I don’t buy the idea that this President was bound by a decision made by a prior president. This was not a treaty, and it was clearly an agreement where the Taliban were not living up to it. This President, President Biden could have come in, reasserted conditions and completely changed the timeline. He’s not bound by the president’s prior agreement, more than he was bound by President Trump’s decision to exit the Iran Deal or the Paris Climate Accords. So, that to me is a false narrative.
Senator Tillis: (01:56:04)
I also have to say that this president,, moving forward, with a failed construct has cost American lives or has cost lives of North Carolinians. We were working on a case with an SIV holder who had a sister worked for an NGO Save the Children, and a father who was in the Afghan police force, and as we were working to get through them, the Taliban, Taliban 2.0 is every bit as ruthless as the one that we replaced in 2001. They sent pictures of the slit throats of people that we were working personally with, they killed this pregnant woman. They killed this police officer, and they are killing countless other people now, that we should have gotten out.
Senator Tillis: (01:56:52)
Secretary Austin, I think we do owe a debt of gratitude to the people that got 120,000, 124,000 people out. It was a logistical success, but this is a strategic failure. General McKenzie, General Miller said 2,500. I’ve heard you and General Milley also say, you agreed with the idea, you personally agreed, you didn’t necessarily say that you recommended to the President, the 2,500. I understood from General Miller that there was a broader context within that recommendation. There were 2,500 fighters, US fighters, but I understand almost 5,000 NATO allies, or 5,000 others that were willing to remain on the ground. And as General Miller said, “Keep the hand on the shoulder of the Afghan national forces, so that we could have a counter to the Taliban.” Is that correct? That it was bigger than that, it was probably the 7,000 range?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:57:50)
Senator. You’re correct. Our NATO allies, would’ve been on board for-
Senator Tillis: (01:57:53)
And also a CIA presence with bases out there for human intelligence, to help us be more precise, more exquisite with the execution of whatever operations we had on the ground?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:58:02)
That is correct, sir.
Senator Tillis: (01:58:03)
Okay. Now I know that you won’t say that you advised the President, but is it fair to say that when General Miller, he said that he advised all of you on his recommendations, it sounds like two of the three of you agreed with it, is it at least fair to say that in the interagency discussion that those recommendations were made and that in your best military advice, it would’ve kept the situation stable in Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:58:29)
Well, I’ve stated consistently that my position was, if you go below 2,500, you’re going to look at a collapse of the Afghan military. I did not foresee it to be days, I thought it would take months, but the rest of the ecosystem would go out with it too, that the NATO partners are going to leave, the interagencies going to leave, and you’re going to leave the Afghans by themselves.
Senator Tillis: (01:58:48)
Did any of you embrace the notion that the 2,500 plus the several thousand, I think an estimated 5,000 NATO allies and partners who were willing to stay there as well, did any of you agree with the President’s assessment, that if he acted on that recommendation, that he would ultimately have to send tens of thousands more US service members to Afghanistan? That if we held that one, that it would ultimately just delay the day where we would be back to a 100,000 or 50,000 US forces in Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:59:24)
So Senator, these discussions were occurring in January, February, March. They’re separate from the late August discussions, so I want to make that point.
Senator Tillis: (01:59:32)
But, in your best military judgment, do you believe that the recommendations that General Miller put forth, with some 2,500 and I think General Milley said maybe flex up at 3,500, do you believe that that would’ve sewn the seeds for ultimately having to send tens of thousands of US service members back to Afghanistan? As the president has said, publicly?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:59:55)
Senator, I believe there was a risk you would incur increasing attacks by the Taliban. That was a risk withholding at 2,500. That was a very clear risk, but I’ll tell you, Senator I’m really humbled recently by my ability to deduce what the Taliban or would not do, so I think it’s hard to know.
Senator Tillis: (02:00:10)
Thank you. And next round I’ll get onto the fate of the SIV holders and people that are stranded in Afghanistan. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair: (02:00:17)
Thank you, Senator Tillis. Let me recognize Senator Warren, and I’m going over for the vote. Senator Haruno will preside in my absence Senator Warren, please?
Senator Warren: (02:00:25)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. So I want to begin by zooming out because it is not possible to understand our final months in Afghanistan without viewing them in the context of the 20 years that led up to them. Anyone who says the last few months were a failure, but everything before that was great clearly hasn’t been paying attention. In 2015, the Taliban conquered its first since 2001. By October, 2018, the Afghan government controlled only 54% of the 407 districts. And by May, 2020, the Afghan government controlled less than a third of Afghan’s 407 districts. We poured money support and air cover, and the Afghan government continued to fail.
Senator Warren: (02:01:15)
By 2021, it was clear that 2,500 troops could not successfully prop up a government that had been losing ground and support to the Taliban for years. Secretary Austin, I understand that you advised the President Biden to stay in Afghanistan, but as you acknowledge, staying or withdrawing is a decision for the President alone. So I want to focus on what happened next. Once President Biden made the decision to have US forces leave the country who designed the evacuation?
Sec. Austin: (02:01:55)
Well, Senator, again, I won’t address the advice I gave the President. I would just say that, in his calculus, this was not risk free. And the Taliban we said earlier in this hearing, were committed to recommencing their operations against our forces. His assessment was that, in order to sustain that and continue to do things that benefited the Afghans, that would require at some point that he increase our presence there in Afghanistan. So, once he made the decision, then of course, from a military perspective, in terms of the retrograde of the people and the equipment, that planning was done by Central Command, and certainly principally, by General Miller. Very detailed planning, and then we came back and briefed the entire interagency on the details of that plan.
Senator Warren: (02:03:03)
Okay. So the military planned the evacuation. Did President Biden follow your advice on executing on the evacuation plan?
Sec. Austin: (02:03:12)
Senator Warren: (02:03:15)
Did President Biden give you all the resources that you needed?
Sec. Austin: (02:03:21)
From my view, he did.
Senator Warren: (02:03:22)
Did President Biden ignore your advice on the evacuation at he point?
Sec. Austin: (02:03:30)
No Senator, he did not.
Senator Warren: (02:03:32)
Did he refuse any request for anything that you needed or asked for?
Sec. Austin: (02:03:37)
Senator Warren: (02:03:38)
So the President followed the advice of his military advisors in planning and executing this withdrawal. As we’ve already established, the seeds for our, or in Afghanistan were planted many, many years ago. So let me ask you one more question, Secretary Austin, knowing what you know now, if we had stayed in Afghanistan for another year, would it have made a fundamental difference?
Sec. Austin: (02:04:05)
Again, it depends on what size you remain in at, and what your objectives are. There are a range of possibilities, but if you stayed there at a forced posture of 2,500, certainly you’d be in a fight with the Taliban, and you’d have to reinforce yourself.
Senator Warren: (02:04:27)
I appreciate your looking at it as a fighter, but I would also add, one more year of propping up a corrupt government, and an army that wouldn’t fight on its own was not going to give us a different outcome. And anyone who thinks differently is either fooling himself, or trying to fool the rest of us.
Senator Warren: (02:04:45)
I believe President Biden had it exactly right. Withdrawing was long overdue. The withdrawal was conducted in accordance with the advice of his military advisors, who planned and executed every step of this withdrawal. Thank you, Madame Chair.
Senator Haruno: (02:05:02)
Senator Warren. Senator Sullivan, you are recognized.
Senator Sullivan: (02:05:06)
Thank you, Madam Chair. Gentlemen, this committee recognizes that your constitutional duty is to follow the lawful orders of the President or resign if you don’t agree with his decisions and policies like Secretary [inaudible 02:05:21] did. But I want to emphasize you do not have a duty, constitutional or otherwise to cover for the commander in chief when he is not telling the truth to the American people. With that, I have a few questions that I’d like you to keep short, concise answers to. On August 18th, in a media interview to the American people. The president said that none of his military advisors told him that he should keep us forces in Afghanistan, General Milley, That was a false statement by the President of the United States, was it not?
General Milley: (02:05:55)
I didn’t even see the statement to tell you the truth.
Senator Sullivan: (02:05:57)
I’m reading you a truthful statement. That was a false statement.
General Milley: (02:06:03)
Yeah. I’m not-
Senator Sullivan: (02:06:05)
Look, I don’t have a lot of time.
General Milley: (02:06:07)
Senator Sullivan: (02:06:07)
Was that a false statement to the American people?
General Milley: (02:06:08)
I’m not going to categorize the statement of the President the of the United States.
Senator Sullivan: (02:06:11)
General McKenzie, was that a false statement? The President said none of his commanders said that he should keep troops in Afghanistan. Was that a false statement by the President of United States? Remember you do not have a duty to cover for the President when he’s not telling the truth. Was that a false statement or not?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:06:28)
I’ve given you my opinion on the matter I’ve given you my judgment on it and I’ll let-
Senator Sullivan: (02:06:31)
I think we all know it was a false statement. Okay, that’s number one. President also said, “If there’s an American citizen left behind in Afghanistan, the military is going to stay until we get them out.” General Milley, did that statement turn out to be true or untrue by the President?
General Milley: (02:06:49)
I think that was the intent, but we gave him a recommendation on the 25th of August to terminate the mission on the 31st of August.
Senator Sullivan: (02:06:55)
Statement was untrue. Let me ask another question. General Milley, General McKenzie, the President, around the same time said, “Al-Qaeda was gone from Afghanistan,” told you American people that. Was that true or not true? Was Al-Qaeda gone from Afghanistan in mid August? True or not true?
General Milley: (02:07:14)
Al-Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. They were there in mid August. They have been severely disrupted and [inaudible 02:07:21] over many, many years. They are not-
Senator Sullivan: (02:07:22)
So it wasn’t true. General McKenzie, was that true or not?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:07:25)
Al-Qaeda was present in Afghanistan.
Senator Sullivan: (02:07:26)
So it wasn’t true. Let me make one final one. The President called this entire retrograde operation, “An extraordinary success.” General Miller in his testimony disagreed with that assertion. General Milley, was this Afghanistan retrograde operation and extraordinary success. There’s
General Milley: (02:07:45)
There’s two operations, Senator.
Senator Sullivan: (02:07:46)
Just yes or no. I have a lot of questions. Was this an extraordinary success.
General Milley: (02:07:51)
Senator with all due respect? There’s two operations; there’s the retrograde, which Miller was in charge of, and there’s the Neo, which [inaudible 02:07:57] was in charge of. The retrograde was executed, and ended by mid-July, with a residual force to defend the embassy, the Neo-
Senator Sullivan: (02:08:07)
You and I have discussed this. Would you use the term, “Extraordinary success,” for what took place in August in Afghanistan?
General Milley: (02:08:16)
That’s the non-com combatant evacuation. And I think one of the other senators said it very well; it was a logistical success, but a strategic failure. And I think those are two different terms.
Senator Sullivan: (02:08:25)
Look, here’s the problem. I think whole world knows this is the cover that Economist Magazine, “Biden’s debacle,” that had stories in it, articles in it called, “The fiasco in Afghanistan is a huge and unnecessary blow to America’s standing.” That was one article. “Joe Biden blames everybody else.” That’s another article. “China sees America humbled.” That’s another article. And gentlemen, the problem here, these are not marginal misstatements by the President to the American people, these are dramatic, obvious falsehoods that go to the very heart of the foreign policy fiasco we have all witnessed. These are life and death deceptions that the President of the United States told the American people.
Senator Sullivan: (02:09:14)
I have one final question. I might leave it because it’s a long one for the follow up, but here’s the anger. I’ve never seen my constituent more angry about an issue than this, and it’s the combination of everybody knowing that this is a debacle, and yet people defending it as a quote, “Extraordinary success.” And here’s the biggest: no accountability. No accountability. You gentlemen have spent your lives, and I completely respect it, troops in combat. You’ve been in combat. You’ve had troops under your command killed in action. You have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical, and the American people respect that, up and down the chain where there are instances, commanders get relieved up and down the chain, we see it. The McCain incident, the Fitzgerald incident, the AAV incident with the Marine Corps, three star, four star flag officers, all relieved of duty.
Senator Sullivan: (02:10:18)
But on this matter, on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been zero accountability, no responsibility from anybody. So I will ask this final question of all of you Senator Cotton talked about-
Senator Haruno: (02:10:36)
Senator Sullivan: (02:10:36)
Madam Chair, if-
Senator Haruno: (02:10:37)
Could you submit your question for the record, please? We’re trying to keep to a five minute questioning rounds. You can ask the question in your second round, if you you’d like. Thank you. Senator Peters.
Senator Peters: (02:10:55)
Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you to each and every one of you for your service to our country. We returned to some of the comments made by Senator Warren, and look at over the last 20 years. I think, if ever we’re going to have a strategic assessment of what happened in Afghanistan, it’s important that any kind of strategic assessment is not just to look at the present, but to look at the past, and look at the future, and look at all three of those elements as we’re making that kind of assessment. And if we’re going to do that, we have to look over the 20 years that we were in Afghanistan, and we’re going to have to have a pretty hard nosed assessment of that. General Milley, you mentioned that; strategic decisions have consequences. And there are a lot of lessons to be learned over 20 years of our involvement in Afghanistan.
Senator Peters: (02:11:43)
I sat at this table here at Armed Services for many years, serving in the House before. Had an opportunity to travel to Afghanistan on a couple of occasions, and when we’ve ever asked our military leaders the situation in Afghanistan, we often heard, “Well, it’s a stale mate right now, but this year coming up is going to be different. This year will be different.” I heard that year after year. “This year’s going to be different. Yeah, I know we were in a stale mate, but this year’s going to be different.” There’s one commentator as said, and Secretary Austin, I want you to comment on this, he said that, “We didn’t really have a 20 year war in Afghanistan, we had 10 one year wars in Afghanistan.” How would you respond to that?
Sec. Austin: (02:12:25)
I would certainly say Senator, that’s something to think about. You’ve heard me say in my opening comments, we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. Do we have the right strategy? Do we have too many strategies? And so if you’re reshaping that strategy every year, one year at a time, then that has consequences. So I think, that’s something we got to go back and look at. And we also have to look at the impact, the effect of the corruption that was in environment. Weak leadership, changes in leadership, and a number of factors.
Senator Peters: (02:13:03)
Well, I want to build on that, because I think it’s important. Secretary Austin, for example, General Milley, When you commanded NATO ground forces in Afghanistan, eight years ago, you called 2013, a critical year for the Afghan security forces because it was the first time they’d taken responsibility for their security across the country. Secretary Austin, you offered similar assessment in 2015 and 2016, during testimony before this committee. As CENTCOM Commander, you emphasized that there were 326, 000 ANSF forces, and they were ready to lead security operations. And I’ll just say, from most my experience, especially when I was in Afghanistan, the input that I got from our commanders was that, “This year’s going to be different. We’re going to be able to do things better.” But I got a completely different assessment when I went to the mess hall, and ate with the soldiers, and the Marines and the folks on the ground, who said, “I don’t trust these folks that we’re with. I don’t know if they’re going to fight. In fact, they don’t even show up. They get their paycheck, but they don’t show up.”
Senator Peters: (02:14:05)
And now there may have been some instances where they’ve performed, and I know you’ve highlighted some of those, but my question from a strategic standpoint is: did we just become fixated perhaps on some tactical performance from our forces, their forces and forget to measure the Afghan security force’s actual institutional health as a force that could sustain a fight, even though they’re in an incredibly weak economy and whole host of complicated cultural issues?
Sec. Austin: (02:14:34)
Clearly questions that we have to drill deep on. At one point, as you know, Senator, we had a number of advisors down to fairly low levels. As we began to lift the numbers of advisors that we had there, and scale back on the people that we had interfacing with the Afghans on a daily basis, we began to lose that fingertip feel. And so, our ability to assess with some degree of certainty, continue to erode, the smaller that we got.
Senator Sullivan: (02:15:12)
My sense is that that was what we were hearing for years. It wasn’t just at the end, that this is an endemic problem for over a decade. So hopefully we will have the opportunity to do that. That’s my final question, Secretary Austin. What are we actually doing to learn from the conclusion of these military operations, particularly from a strategic assessment point of view, when it comes to end of conflict transition? We’re going to have potentially other operations like this, even in great power competition.
Sec. Austin: (02:15:42)
Yeah. So as we always do, Senator, we’re going to take a hard look at ourselves in terms of, what we did over the last 20 years, what worked, what didn’t work, and we’re going to learn from those lessons, and make sure that we incorporate that into our planning, and our strategic assessment going forward.
Sec. Austin: (02:16:03)
Our strategic assessment going forward.
Mr. Chairman: (02:16:05)
Thank you. Thank you very much, Senator Peters. Senator Kramer, please.
Senator Kramer: (02:16:09)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank all three of you for your service and for being here. God bless the men and women under your command. General McKenzie, is it true that US forces had the ISIS-K cell under surveillance prior to August 26th, and could have struck them before the deadly terrorist attacks at Kabul, but were not given the authority to strike?
General McKenzie: (02:16:29)
No, that’s not true.
Senator Kramer: (02:16:32)
I noticed that the president was quick to take a victory lap after the first strike and push this tough guy image he’s so famous for. He once threatened to have union bosses beat me up. He said things like, “Just do it. If we find more, we’ll strike them.” Of course, this was after he said of the ISIS-K leaders, “We will hunt you down.” He talks tough. He’s going to go get them. I also noticed he’s been equally silent. Taking no responsibility for the strike on innocent civilians, including children, that was in part caused by, in my view, his insecure need to appear tough.
Senator Kramer: (02:17:06)
He just let you take the blame, General McKenzie. What I really worry about is the air crews who actually were pressured into pulling the trigger that terrible day. Secretary Austin, as you know, the North Dakota Air National Guard operates reapers around the world. I know what kind of pressure those air crews are under, and the level of responsibility they feel to accomplish their missions properly. I’m worried that whoever was operating the aircraft involved in the tragic 29th August strike was set up to fail by an administration that wanted a political victory more than they wanted an American victory.
Senator Kramer: (02:17:47)
Have you reached out to the air crew to make sure that they understand it’s not their fault, that there are seven dead children?
Sec. Austin: (02:17:54)
I have not, Senator. As you probably know, I have directed a three star review of this incident. General McKenzie did an initial investigation and I’ve directed a three star review so I won’t make any comments.
Senator Kramer: (02:18:13)
There certainly seemed to be a lot of indications that a terrorist event was likely, if not imminent, leading up to the ISIS-K bombing on the 26th. Why were our military members still exposed after that threat was known, General McKenzie?
General McKenzie: (02:18:30)
The purpose of our force at the airfield was to bring American citizens and Afghans at risk out. In order to do that, you had to have the gates open. You had to process people. You’re right, there were a lot of threats and we worked very hard to minimize those threats, and you try to balance it. Every once in a while, the bad guys sneak one in on you.
General McKenzie: (02:18:49)
This is an example of where that occurred. It wasn’t through any lack of attention to trying to find those cells or looking hard for them. We did find a number and we did, in fact, which I’ll be happy to talk about in closed session. We did, in fact, enable and stop those attacks from occurring. This one we were not successful on.
Senator Kramer: (02:19:07)
Speaking of that, I want to drill down just a minute since I have a couple. The Taliban was controlling the checkpoints obviously around the airport. And you’d indicated, General McKenzie, that the US at that time had, you called it a pragmatic relationship of necessity with the Taliban. Did we share any information with the Taliban about the ISIS-K threat? If so, how did the Taliban respond to it? In other words, how did they get in? Is it possible that they let them in on purpose?
General McKenzie: (02:19:34)
So it is possible that they let them in on purpose, but the body of intelligence indicates that is not in fact what happened. One event happened and that’s a terrible tragic event. A lot of other events didn’t happen because that outer circle, the Taliban forces, were there.
General McKenzie: (02:19:47)
Look, I defer to no one in my disdain for the Taliban and my lack of trust for them, but I believe they actually prevented other attacks from occurring. This event, someone got through. I believe there were other times when people did not get through.
Senator Kramer: (02:20:00)
All right. Look, the reality is there’re patriotic Americans all over the country and certainly, in North Dakota they are really upset. They’re genuinely pissed off and they sense that there’s a lot of political positioning, and apologizing, and rationalizing. No one’s really saying anything other than it was an extraordinary event. Now, some of you have admitted that it wasn’t perfect, I think were your words, General Milley. Extraordinary success just rankles them when they hear that, especially when they see that out of the 124,000 people that were brought to the United States, we don’t know much about a whole bunch of them. And yet we know a whole bunch about people that weren’t brought back to the United States and they’re upset. They’re really, really upset. I know you know that. I think you’re seeing the reflection of that in their elected representatives. This afternoon, we’ll probably drill down a little more on some things. I look forward to the closed session as well, General McKenzie, to learn more about August 26th.
Mr. Chairman: (02:21:04)
Thank you, Senator Kramer. Senator Manchin, please.
Senator Manchin: (02:21:08)
Thank you very much. First of all, thank all three of you. I appreciate your service to our country, and I never have doubted your unwavering commitment to defend our country and our constitution. I’m having a hard time. I’m old enough to understand. I remember Vietnam very well. I was in line to go there, and had an injury in my playing ball at WVU, and that didn’t happen. So anyway, I just can’t figure out, I can’t explain to the younger generation, to my children and grandchildren, how do we get into this and never get out?
Senator Manchin: (02:21:37)
We didn’t learn from Vietnam? That was a horrible exit. I remember that very vividly. This was even worse than that, as far as my recall. I don’t know what lessons we’re taking from this right now, but I look back at lack of an AUMF. We had an open-end AUMF. We still have an open-end AUMF. If we would’ve had an AUMF and basically had a time certain and specific goal, do any of you think that could have made a difference? Do you think, hindsight being 2020, what did we learn from these mistakes? How do we prevent them again? We thought from Vietnam we learned not to go and try to change the nation.
Senator Manchin: (02:22:16)
Here we are, trading partners with Vietnam. Is that same going to end up with Afghanistan? I can’t comprehend any of it, to be honest with you and I have no explanation. Anybody that wants to help me, and General Milley, I know that you have a great knowledge of history, and how we’ve gotten into situations, and how maybe we should keep from repeating that.
General Milley: (02:22:37)
As I said, Senator Manchin, in my opening comment.
Senator Manchin: (02:22:42)
I’m sorry. I was conducting an ENR meeting. I wasn’t able to be here for that. I’m so sorry.
General Milley: (02:22:47)
I mentioned that there’s been four presidents, 20 commanders on the ground, seven or eight chairman as joint chiefs, dozens of secretaries of defense, et cetera. The outcomes like this are not determined in the last five days, the last 20 days, or the last year for that matter. Outcomes in a war like this, an outcome that is a strategic failure, the enemy is in charge in Kabul. There’s no way else to describe that. That outcome is a cumulative effect of 20 years, not 20 days.
General Milley: (02:23:23)
There are a huge amount of strategic, operational and tactical lessons that need to be learned from this. Some of them in the military sphere, the narrow military sphere. One of them, for example, is the mirror imaging of the building of the Afghan National Army based on American doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures. That made a military that may, I’m going to wait full evaluation, but may have been overly dependent upon us, our presence, contractors, and higher tech systems, in order to fight a counterinsurgency war. That’s one area that needs to be fully explored. Another is the intel. How did we miss collapse of an army in a government that big, that fast in only 11 days? That needs to be pulled apart. Then there are other factors that are not strictly military, but things like the legitimacy of the government, corruption, the parasitic nature of the police forces. That there’s a whole series of 10 or 20 that I wrote down just a week or two ago, that need to be looked at, and looked at in depth, and very seriously and comprehensively over time.
Senator Manchin: (02:24:25)
DO we know where the president, the former president of Afghanistan is today and how much money he took with him? Do we have any idea?
General Milley: (02:24:37)
Secretary Austin, do you have any idea?
Sec. Austin: (02:24:39)
I think that he may be in a UAE, senator. I’m not certain of that. That’s what the last report that I had. And in terms of any money that he may have taken with him, I have no knowledge of any amounts of money.
Senator Manchin: (02:24:53)
There’s no way that we can trace that through the banking institutions? No way that we have any insight on that whatsoever? There has to be exchanges going back and forth because I’m sure he is not keeping it in the bank of Afghanistan.
Sec. Austin: (02:25:09)
Defense doesn’t have any insight on that, Senator, but certainly I’m not sure if the law enforcement agency- [crosstalk 02:25:15]
Senator Manchin: (02:25:14)
We’ll check with Treasury, maybe Treasury might. I’m just looking for some answers that maybe aren’t answerable. Everyone’s asked the questions of how do we prevent this from happening again? Why didn’t we see it? There’s not a person that’s returned that I’ve spoken to on special ops that were there when they returned. I was there a couple times in 2006, I was there in 2011. I was there, but every time it got worse, it didn’t get better. This couldn’t be a surprise. They never were going to step to the plate. It couldn’t have been a surprise that they wouldn’t fight. They never had allegiance to a country. We knew that and special ops people said it gets worse every day. It doesn’t get better. Every mission was worse. We used to drive from Kabul to Bagram. After I went back the second time, hell we couldn’t do that.
Senator Manchin: (02:26:01)
It got so bad, everything got bad. I got to tell this one. It drives me absolutely insane to see the television at night, and see the Taliban, and all them wearing our uniforms, wearing our night vision, doing everything, using everything we have. Our MWRAPs and everything else that we left there. I just can’t believe it. I can’t even get an accounting of how much equipment we really did leave. I know how many aircraft we left, and I know how many basically MWRAPs and all the different things, but not to plan better to take that equipment out. It was unbelievable.
Sec. Austin: (02:26:40)
I would just flag for you, Senator, that all of the equipment that we had, that we used, was retrograded by General Miller as a part of the drawdown. Thousands of tons of equipment, and whatever high end equipment that we had, that we were using. The equipment that the Afghan Security Forces had as the Taliban took over is the equipment that you see.
Sec. Austin: (02:27:11)
Of course, all of the helicopters that were left on the airfield at HKIA, I asked General McKenzie to demilitarize those so that they couldn’t be ever be used again. We took, we retrograded all of our equipment that we were supposed to retrograde as we drew down.
Senator Manchin: (02:27:32)
Only thing I can say in finishing up is that I would hope that God would bless America to have the intelligence not to repeat what we continually have seen doesn’t work. With you all, expertise you have and knowledge you’re gaining from all this, please, please help us from ever, ever repeating what we’ve done.
Mr. Chairman: (02:27:49)
Thank you, Senator Manchin. Senator Scott, please.
Senator Scott: (02:27:53)
Thank you, Chairman. First of all, I want to thank each of you for being here. General Milley, one thing I hope at some point you’ll address is the contact of your calls, with regard to the Chinese and whether what’s been alleged is that you would warn them if there was going to be an attack. Also, address whether there was any intelligence indicating that the Chinese were actually nervous. One thing that surprised me about what’s been going on in the last few months is the president has absolutely blamed everyone else but himself for the botched withdrawal of Afghanistan. He, as the president of the United States, has ability to make these decisions.
Senator Scott: (02:28:33)
He can take all the advice he wants, but he gets to make the final decisions. He’s blamed previous administrations, he’s blamed the people of Afghanistan. He’s blamed the military of Afghanistan, which I think is absolutely disingenuous. The people in the White House have even blamed our own military. Secretary Austin, some things you’ve said today actually surprised me. You said you were ready. You said you exceeded expectations. You said our credibility is solid. You’ve said the president followed your advice on the evacuation. Let me just ask you, first question is, do you still believe that the most effective withdrawal strategy involves extracting the military, abandoning our military installations, and reducing our use of force and ability to use force before we got our civilians out?
Sec. Austin: (02:29:22)
Thanks, Senator. First of all, the decision was to end our military operations, and draw down all of our forces, and retrograde all of our equipment and that was accomplished. General Miller, I think, put together a great plan and executed that plan, in accordance with the plan. Also, a key part of the plan was to maintain an embassy in Kabul. Maintaining that embassy would allow us to continue to engage the government, to continue to provide resources to support the Afghan Security Forces. The plan was to leave a diplomatic presence there. In conjunction with that plan, we also were going to leave a small military force there to help secure the embassy. That was the plan, Senator.
Senator Scott: (02:30:21)
You didn’t address the issue that it was your plan. You’ve acknowledged it was your plan, and your plan said you would do all these things before we got our civilians out. When in the history of this country, have we ever had the US military say and have a plan that we will take our military out first before we take our civilians? I can’t imagine that.
Sec. Austin: (02:30:45)
When you say civilians, are you talking about- [crosstalk 02:30:48].
Senator Scott: (02:30:47)
Sec. Austin: (02:30:48)
Senator Scott: (02:30:49)
Sec. Austin: (02:30:50)
Well, the American citizens would come out once a non-combatant evacuation is declared. Until that point, typically, we don’t evacuate all the citizens in the country.
Senator Scott: (02:31:01)
But we didn’t here. There’s American citizens still there.
Sec. Austin: (02:31:05)
And we continue to remain engaged and work to get those citizens out, Senator.
Senator Scott: (02:31:14)
Why would you propose a plan that didn’t get all American citizens out? I just can’t imagine ever in the history of this country, our US military would propose to leave a country without our citizens coming out first. Have we ever done that before?
Sec. Austin: (02:31:32)
All of the American citizens wouldn’t leave, Senator, unless there was a non-combatant evacuation. The plan was to leave the embassy there, to continue to address the needs of our American citizens, to engage with the government. That was a part of the plan. Again, the plan was never to evacuate the American citizens and leave the embassy there.
Senator Scott: (02:32:00)
Did it bother you when the president went on national television said that he would not leave until all American citizens were taken out? Did it bother you that when he said that because it clearly was not truthful?
Sec. Austin: (02:32:13)
Now, Senator, you heard me say several times that we’re going to work as hard as we can, for as long as we can to get every American citizen out that wants to come out. We continue to do that to this day.
Senator Scott: (02:32:27)
Well, I’m running out of time. One thing I want when we have next round, I want to understand what decisions would you make differently today to save those 13 lives of service men and women that we lost at the Kabul airport. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
General Milley: (02:32:44)
Senator, if I could comment on your first opening comment, if I may?
Senator Scott: (02:32:49)
Go ahead, sir.
General Milley: (02:32:51)
I am happy to lay out every detail in all the intel to you as an individual, to any other member, or to a committee, or anything you want on these Chinese calls at your convenience. Happy to do it.
Senator Scott: (02:33:05)
Mr. Chairman: (02:33:06)
Thank you. Thank you, Senator Scott. Senator Duckworth, please.
Senator Duckworth: (02:33:09)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I share my colleagues’ concerns about the rapid collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and the Afghan government and the failure of our intelligence. We need some answers. After investing two decades, nearly $2 trillion, and most importantly, the lives of almost 2,500 of American troops, our nation must conduct a thorough and honest review of the United States government’s involvement in Afghanistan since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Senator Duckworth: (02:33:39)
For the sake of current and future generations of war fighters, we must capture the hard lessons from Afghanistan to ensure that these lessons are not forgotten or worse, repeated on a future battlefield. This is our moral responsibility as a nation. Gentlemen, all three of you have been involved in the war in Afghanistan multiple times, in multiple different capacities throughout your careers. Secretary Austin, was the situation on the ground in Afghanistan over the last few months influenced by previous decisions made over the course of several years?
Sec. Austin: (02:34:13)
I absolutely believe that, Senator. Foremost among those decisions is the Doha Agreement. I think that severely impacted the morale of the military.
Senator Duckworth: (02:34:25)
Thank you. Secretary Austin, if that’s the case, is it possible to have an intellectually honest lessons learned exercise that only looks at the most recent events in Afghanistan of the last couple of months? Or must any effective review look at the whole 20 years since September 11th?
Sec. Austin: (02:34:42)
I think you have to look at the entire 20 years. Senator, I think there’s some great lessons learned that we’re going to take away once we do that. I believe you got to look at the entire time span.
Senator Duckworth: (02:34:56)
Thank you. I agree that an effective review must be comprehensive. After all the war in Afghanistan was shaped by four different administrations and 11 different congresses. No party should be looking to score cheap, partisan, political points off a multi decade nation building failure that was bipartisan in the making. Instead, Congress should authorize a long term effort, solely devoted to bringing accountability and transparency to the Afghanistan war and lessons to be learned.
Senator Duckworth: (02:35:25)
That is why on Thursday, I will be introducing the Afghanistan War Study Commission. My bill would establish a bipartisan, independent commission to examine every aspect of the war, including the political and strategic decisions that transformed a focused military mission into vast nation building campaign. Importantly, this commission must produce actionable recommendations designed to guide the development of real reform. Just ask the 9/11 commissions work in form congressional law making efforts in the years after its publication.
Senator Duckworth: (02:35:58)
Secretary Austin, would you agree with me that such an independent long-term study could serve as an effective complementary effort to the more targeted lessons learned reviews that DOD always conducts? Particularly, in shedding light on how Congress and civilian leaders from multiple government agencies can do a better job in defining the scope of military missions and actually enforcing legal limitations on the use of force.
Sec. Austin: (02:36:24)
I would. The point that you’re making, in my view, is it needs to be an inner agency approach to this.
Senator Duckworth: (02:36:32)
Thank you. I do want to note that my family and I were in Cambodia until the very end. I’m an American. I was born in Thailand, but my father worked for the United Nations. To answer my colleagues’ question, my father chose to stay as long as possible to help the Cambodian people as long as possible. He left after American troops had left. The American ambassador stayed behind after American troops had left. And in fact, after the last military transport had left, I know this because my father was on the last military transport to leave Cambodia, and the ambassador had to travel over land.
Senator Duckworth: (02:37:07)
So yes, we do leave Americans behind, but this is all tied to NEO operations and how that is planned, which is why I think it is so important that we have an independent investigation. Maybe the failure here was that we didn’t have a NEO plan in place, and we didn’t activate it before all of our troops left. But if that’s the case, we need to learn that. So I would ask for my colleagues, who considered this independent commission, we put somebody in charge of it, who was not in a decision making capacity during the 20 years.
Senator Duckworth: (02:37:36)
Make it nonpartisan and let’s get those lessons learned so we don’t make these same mistakes over and over again. Our troops deserve better. The families of the 2,500 American troops, who laid down their lives to protect and defend this constitution, who followed the lawful order of all of those presidents, they deserve better than partisan fights. We need to get some real answers. Thank you. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman: (02:37:58)
Thank you, Senator Duckworth. Now, let me recognize Senator Blackburn.
Senator Blackburn: (02:38:05)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, we thank you all for being here with us today. As you’ve heard from all of us, the American people, Tennesseeans, are wanting some answers. They deserve to hear your testimony. I think it is unacceptable that this is the first time that I’m hearing from you in any forum, despite attempts at outreach by both me and my staff. Save a few short, all Senator phone calls that we have had. I want to emphasize all of us here, every one of us, answer to the American people.
Senator Blackburn: (02:38:42)
They deserve transparency and information regarding this administration’s botched and disgraceful withdrawal. Tennesseeans are really angry. As you know, General Milley, Tennessee is home to the 101st Airborne, one of the most deployed divisions in the US military. We’re also home to the specialized 160th SOAR, who were among the last on the ground, extracting US citizens from danger in Kabul. Tennessee National Guard units have deployed to Afghanistan at a high, operational tempo, as well as providing vital, logistical services, such as refueling.
Senator Blackburn: (02:39:24)
We are home to more than 400,000 veterans, many of whom have lasting physical and psychological wounds from the time they have spent in service. Tennesseeans are heartbroken over the loss of one of our own Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, a patriotic American who represented the best of all of us in the August 26th suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport. He made the ultimate sacrifice. How did we get here and how did we get to what has been a complete letdown to most Tennesseeans? I’ve got a few questions.
Senator Blackburn: (02:40:10)
These are yes or no questions, so quick answers are appreciated. General Milley, were there options given for keeping American troops in Afghanistan, rather than the unconditional, chaotic withdrawal?
General Milley: (02:40:27)
Senator Blackburn: (02:40:28)
You presented options and those options were declined.
General Milley: (02:40:33)
There were options presented and debated.
Senator Blackburn: (02:40:35)
Yes or no.
General Milley: (02:40:35)
The decision was made.
Senator Blackburn: (02:40:37)
Yes or no is fine. Did you at any point create options for keeping Bagram open beyond July 2nd?
General Milley: (02:40:45)
Senator Blackburn: (02:40:45)
Did you provide options for keeping Bagram open directly to the president?
General Milley: (02:40:51)
Senator Blackburn: (02:40:52)
Had Bagram stayed open, would our support to the Afghan Air Force have been more effective in your view?
General Milley: (02:40:59)
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the last part.
Senator Blackburn: (02:41:01)
If Bagram had stayed open, would our support to the Afghan Air Force have been more effective in your view? Yes or no.
General Milley: (02:41:11)
Frankly, I’m not sure on that one, because most of the Afghan Air Force was at different bases, specifically at HKIA.
Senator Blackburn: (02:41:18)
President Biden keeps calling it an extraordinary success. We’ve discussed some of this today. Is leaving Americans behind an extraordinary success in your view, Secretary Austin?
Sec. Austin: (02:41:36)
We’re not leaving Americans behind.
Senator Blackburn: (02:41:36)
Yes or no is fine. Is the killing of 13 American servicemen and women, while trying to secure a chaotic evacuation of the president’s own making an extraordinary success?
Sec. Austin: (02:41:49)
The loss of any civilian life is always tragic.
Senator Blackburn: (02:41:50)
Is the fact that we failed to evacuate most of our Afghan partners an extraordinary success, or the fact that we have Afghans bringing child brides, people who are hardly vetted, is that an extraordinary success?
Sec. Austin: (02:42:06)
Again, these are issues that we continue to work to get our American citizens out and the Afghans- [crosstalk 02:42:13]
Senator Blackburn: (02:42:12)
Let me move on. Per Article II of the Constitution, the president may require the opinion in writing of the principal officer in each of the executive departments. Did the president ever require or request written recommendations related to the withdrawal of the Afghan forces? Yes or no. Secretary Austin, then General Milley, then General McKenzie. Yes or no.
Sec. Austin: (02:42:38)
I provided our input as a part of a policy process that that was very well and deliberately weren’t run.
Senator Blackburn: (02:42:47)
We will note that you didn’t completely answer that. General Milley, any written form?
General Milley: (02:42:52)
Senator Blackburn: (02:42:53)
Would you make those available to us?
General Milley: (02:42:56)
Make it available to the committee upon request in accordance with appropriate classifications.
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:01)
We will. We will do so. General McKenzie, yes or no.
General McKenzie: (02:43:04)
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:05)
And you will make those available?
General McKenzie: (02:43:07)
Based on guidance from the secretary.
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:08)
Each of you had committed to make those available when you went through your confirmation processes. We’ll come back to you for those. General Milley, yes or no to this. Did you talk to Bob Woodard or Robert Costa for their book, Peril?
General Milley: (02:43:23)
Woodard, yes. Costa, no.
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:24)
Did you talk to Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker for their book I Alone Can I fix It?
General Milley: (02:43:29)
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:30)
Did you talk to Michael Bender for his book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost? Yes or no.
General Milley: (02:43:38)
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:39)
And were you accurately represented in these books?
General Milley: (02:43:43)
I haven’t read any of the books so I don’t know. I’ve seen press reporting of it. I haven’t read the books.
Senator Blackburn: (02:43:50)
Let’s have you read the books and then let us know if you are accurately presented and portrayed.
General Milley: (02:43:55)
Absolutely. Happy to do that.
Mr. Chairman: (02:43:56)
Senator Blackburn, [crosstalk 02:43:57] we’re adhering to the five minute rule. Thank you. Senator Rosen, please.
Senator Rosen: (02:44:07)
Thank you, Chairman Reed, ranking member for holding today’s very important hearing. A critical part of this committee’s oversight responsibilities, it’s an opportunity for the American people to get answers about our withdrawal from Afghanistan and how we plan to counter terrorist threats in the future. I also want to sincerely thank the brave men and women, who served our country in Afghanistan, many who made the ultimate sacrifice. Of course, their families as well. Secretary Austin, General Milley and General McKenzie, I appreciate you all being here to address lingering concerns we have about the last two decades of war generally, and the past two months in particular.
Senator Rosen: (02:44:47)
You are all men of honor and integrity, who have served our country nobly and I so look forward to your candid responses, to my questions, even if they require admitting that in some cases, serious mistakes were made. Like all Senate offices, as the Taliban approached Kabul and eventually took over the city and the country, my team and I worked to help vulnerable individuals evacuate. These were people, who in many cases, had the state department’s approval to leave Afghanistan for the US or third party country. Due to crowds, Taliban checkpoints or a legitimate fear of being killed along the way, they could just not physically get to a gate to present their paperwork.
Senator Rosen: (02:45:28)
No matter how many times they tried, or no matter how long they waited. My office work was CENTCOM in the Afghanistan task force to try to coordinate opportunities just to grab these people from the crowd so they could present their paperwork and flee to safety. Unfortunately, again, these efforts were to no avail. As these individuals continue to wait for help that may never come, I remain frustrated that the US did not set up a perimeter around Kabul, or at the very least, create a safe corridor for the S one visa holders to get to the airport for their families’ potential asylum seekers, who were attempting to escape a near certain death. Continued support, General Milley.
Senator Rosen: (02:46:15)
I appreciate the state department now taking the lead on evacuations. But like our military, the state department no longer has any presence on the ground in Afghanistan. I’d like to ask you, sir, does the US military’s recent experience facilitating the evacuation from Kabul give you the confidence that the Taliban will be honest brokers in working with our diplomats to help vulnerable Afghan nationals leave the country?
General Milley: (02:46:43)
I think that what we’ve seen so far since the 31st, is some Americans have gotten out through diplomatic means. They have reached safety through either over land routes or through aircraft. I don’t know all the details, but I can’t imagine that didn’t happen without Taliban facilitation.
Senator Rosen: (02:47:03)
Well, we can get back to Afghan nationals helping them leave the country as well, those SIV holders and others who supported us. Secretary Austin, the administration has said they’ll utilize every tool available to hold the Taliban accountable, if they fail to meet their commitments, to provide safe passage for anyone who wants to leave the country. Certainly, we know they’re economic levers, but can you elaborate on what the military tools are? Could there be a shared interest in targeting ISIS-K?
Sec. Austin: (02:47:37)
In terms of military tools, Senator, as you know, we have the ability to offer a range of options depending on what the president’s objectives are. We can do most anything that’s required of us and because we have substantial resources. But in terms of our cooperation with the Taliban to counter ISIS-K, I won’t venture to make any comments on that. I would just say that we have coordinated some things that are very narrow in scope with them to get our people out, as you know, and to continue to further evacuate American citizens. I don’t think it’s right to make assumptions to broader and bigger things from that coordination. They are still the Taliban.
Senator Rosen: (02:48:39)
Thank you. I’d just like to, in the few seconds I have left and we can take these second round or off the record. Future counter terrorism operations, we have to reorganize our counter terrorism capabilities and our assets in the region, of course, as we move to an over the horizon scenario. Secretary Austin, General McKenzie, and we’ll take these in the second round. Think about like the answer to what is the plan for an enduring counter terrorism strategy that is going to be able to address and counter the influence of the violent extremist organizations in Afghanistan. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman: (02:49:15)
Thank you, Senator Rosen. Senator Hawley, please.
Senator Hawley: (02:49:19)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just sum up where I understand that we are, based on what’s been a fairly, extraordinary hearing here. Here’s what I’ve learned so far. Number one, the president of the United States lied to the American people about the advice that you gave to him about the military judgment that you provided for him. I think you’ve all testified to that effect now repeatedly.
Senator Hawley: (02:49:38)
Secondly, the state department, and maybe the White House, appeared to have pushed back the evacuation to such a time that it became a catastrophe, apparently against your advice, although I’d like to learn more about that. And third, for some reason, we still don’t quite understand the Pentagon failed to plan for the potential collapse of the security forces or the collapse of the Afghan government, despite there being quite a lot of warnings. Senator Kain referred to this earlier, quite a lot warning for really frankly, years that the Afghan security forces were ill-equipped.
Senator Hawley: (02:50:03)
Warning for really frankly years that the Afghan security forces were ill-equipped, ill-trained, and frankly not up to the job. I don’t understand any of that. I’d like to explore those things with you in this round and the next, but first before I do, Secretary Austin, I have to take issue with something you just said. I know this is an administration talking point. I’ve heard it out of the mouth of the Press Secretary and others. “We are not leaving Americans behind.” That was your quote of just a minute ago. With all due respect, sir, you have left, past tense, Americans behind. We have no presence any longer in Afghanistan. There are hundreds of not just Americans generally, civilians you left behind against the President’s explicit commitment not to leave until all American citizens were out and to safety. That is not what happened and now we have people who are desperately, frantically trying to get out of this country, coming to me, coming to members of this committee asking for help. They can’t get that help. They’re stuck behind enemy lines. So please don’t tell me that we’re not leaving Americans behind. You left them behind. Joe Biden left them behind and frankly it was a disgrace. Let me ask you this though.
Sec. Austin: (02:51:06)
Senator, thanks for your help in continuing to help get American citizens and Afghans who have helped us out of the country, but as you’ve seen, we’ve continued to facilitate-
Senator Hawley: (02:51:16)
Well actually I didn’t ask you a question, but since you seem to want to address the issue, so since you do, isn’t it true that you left Americans behind on August 31st?
Sec. Austin: (02:51:27)
There are Americans, there were Americans that were still in Afghanistan and still are.
Senator Hawley: (02:51:32)
Sec. Austin: (02:51:32)
We continue to work-
Senator Hawley: (02:51:33)
Sec. Austin: (02:51:33)
… to try to get those Americans out.
Senator Hawley: (02:51:34)
Yeah, that’s a yes. Let’s not repeat, please, the frankly falsehood that we didn’t leave Americans behind. Let me ask you this. Secretary Austin, you’ve alluded to several times the fact that the military was ready, you say this in your prepared remarks, by late April. You say military planners who crafted a number of evacuation scenarios. You refer later in your remarks to the fact that you were waiting for the State Department to make a decision about evacuations. NBC News is reporting this morning that the military wanted to begin evacuations earlier, but the State Department and the White House intervened and by May 8th said, “No, we’re delaying the evacuations of our civilians.” Can you just help us get to the truth here? Was it your judgment and opinion that the evacuations of civilians should have begun before the middle of August?
Sec. Austin: (02:52:21)
We provided our input to the State Department and again, it is the call of the State Department to-
Senator Hawley: (02:52:26)
I understand that. I understand that, Mr. Secretary. I’m asking for what your judgment was and I’m asking specifically about your testimony that in April, you develop evacuation scenarios and this is reported by multiple sources this morning in the news. So I just wonder as of last April, was it your opinion that the evacuations of civilians should begin, should have begun before, should begin earlier than they did?
Sec. Austin: (02:52:50)
We provided input to try to get out as many Afghans who have helped us along the way as early as possible, but again, the State Department made its decisions based upon the fact that even President Ghani had engaged them and said, “Hey, we’re very concerned about the mass exodus of civilians from the country.”
Senator Hawley: (02:53:17)
General Milley, let me direct this to you. Did you ever advise in the inter-agency process that the rapid withdrawal timeline that the White House and Pentagon signed off on, General Miller proposed effectively getting us to zero by the middle of July, that that would negatively impact any effort to get out our civilians? In other words, if we’d drawn down to zero by July, if we then had a civilian evacuation order, we’d be in a lot of trouble. Did you ever advise to that effect during the inter-agency process? Did you warn about that possibly of drawing down so quickly before a civilian evacuation was underway?
General Milley: (02:53:57)
Yeah, but it’s more complicated than that. The draw down of the forces under Miller, those guys are advisors. They’re not the neo kind of guys. The neo troops are Marine expeditionary unit, special purpose [inaudible 02:54:15], and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. That’s what you need in order to do the neo. Those are the plans that the Secretary is referring to that were developed early on, and there’s specific triggers that are required in the State Department calls the time of the neo. The Secretary in fact on the 12th of August started pushing forward forces in orders and on the 14th, the ambassador, Ambassador Wilson called the neo. Should that have been called earlier? I think that’s an open question that needs further exploration based on a series of meetings, but the April piece and the draw down of the advisors, that’s a separate and distinct task and the retrograde of those forces. Those 2500 advisors weren’t the guys bringing out the American citizens anyway. Those were the advisors to the Afghan Security Forces.
General Milley: (02:54:57)
There were concerns that we raised throughout the inter-agency that when those advisors, if the advisors were to stay, then there’s a possibility that the Afghan Security Forces would hang in there. We all knew that when we pulled the advisors out, when we pulled the money out, that at some point in the future, most said it was in the fall, that the Afghan Security Forces were going to fracture and the government would collapse. The speed at which that happens in August is a different animal. The advisors are already gone by mid-July. There is still a government. There is still an Afghan army. The assumption was that it would remain and the mission was to keep the embassy open, secure the embassy, transition that off to contractors, and then all the military would be out and it would be a diplomatic mission and there’d be money in over the [inaudible 02:55:49].
General Milley: (02:55:49)
None of that happened because that army and that government collapsed very rapidly. As soon as those indicators came of fracture, Secretary Austin and others throughout the government executed and implemented a neo plan for which there was contingencies that were built, that was a plan for a rapid collapse, and that was the neo plan that General McKenzie had come up with and that’s what was executed. That’s why those 6000 troops could deploy as rapidly as they did. That’s why all those aircraft showed up. That wasn’t done without planning. That was done with planning and that was done … From an operational and tactical standpoint, that was a success. Strategically, strategically, the war is lost. The enemy’s in Kabul so you have a strategic failure while you simultaneously have an operational and tactical success by the soldiers on the ground. So I think we’re conflating some things that we need to separate in this after action review process so that we clearly understand what exactly happened. I’m sorry for taking all that time, but I thought it was necessary.
Mr. Reed: (02:56:48)
Thank you, Senator Hawley. Senator Kelly, please.
Senator Kelly: (02:56:51)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, let me begin by expressing my gratitude to each of the over 800,000 Americans, many of them Arizonans, who served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and to their families. I also commend our service members’ support of one of the largest airlifts in our country’s history. We will never forget the achievements of the men and women who worked 24/7 in Kabul, managed impossible conditions on the ground, and above all, those who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting innocent civilians. 124,000 people are safe today because of American troops and diplomats. Still, after decades of conflict, 2500 American soldiers killed, and billions invested in security cooperation, the American people deserve to know why the Afghan government and security forces collapsed in a matter of days and how there was a failure to prepare for this scenario and ensure that our people were out of the country before it fell. I think we’ve established here that the withdrawal and evacuation did not account for real world conditions and that the intelligence was flawed.
Senator Kelly: (02:58:15)
The United States wields incredible power as a global leader and our accountability must match our influence. For our own national security and for each of those who served in Afghanistan during our longest war, we must understand what happened, but also look forward to ensure that our posture allows us to provide for our national security and prevent Afghanistan’s use as a base for terrorist activity. So I want to transition and look forward and not ask you questions that you’ve already answered. General McKenzie, America’s armed forces have been on the front lines fighting terrorists for the past 20 years. During this time, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have been degraded. While our military presence in Afghanistan has ended, our commitment to fighting terrorism has not. With our withdrawal complete, the Afghan government collapse, and the Taliban seeking to fill the power vacuum left behind, how is central command postured to prevent terrorist organizations from gaining strength in the region?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:59:33)
Senator, probably the details of this would be best left to the classified session which we’ll have later this afternoon, but I would tell you that I have today headquarters that has the ability to look into Afghanistan, albeit limited, and we have the ability to fuse the different disciplines of intelligence to look particularly at ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda. We are still refining that, the best practices on that, but we do have a way forward. I’ve told this committee before it is very hard to do this. It is not impossible to do this.
Senator Kelly: (03:00:02)
Well I’m looking forward to seeing those details in the closed hearing. Are you confident that we can deny organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS the ability to use Afghanistan as a launchpad for terrorist activity?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:00:17)
I think that’s yet to be seen. I think we’re still seeing how Al-Qaeda and ISIS are configuring themselves against the Taliban. We’re still seeing what the Taliban is going to do. So I think it’s … I would not say I’m confident that that’s going to be on the ground yet. We could get to that point, but I do not yet have that level of confidence.
Senator Kelly: (03:00:36)
You might have to share this in the closed hearing, but do you have the resources necessary to accomplish this even as our national security pivots towards great power or near peer threats like China and Russia that are seeking to expand their influence and compete with our military?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:00:55)
Senator, I’ll just say I’m in a constant dialogue with the Secretary about requirements in Cent. Comm. and I’ll give you some more details in the closed session.
Senator Kelly: (03:01:02)
Okay. Well thank you. I know you can’t go into much detail about the analysis that led to the August 28th drone strike in Kabul in this open setting, but I would like to note my serious concerns and give you the opportunity to make an comment on how the American people can know that the military will be able to adequately assess targets before conducting future strikes and operations even as we have even fewer local intelligence and surveillance resources to leverage.
Gen. McKenzie: (03:01:34)
Senator, again the matter is under investigation, but what I can tell you broadly and to restate some things I’ve said earlier, I am responsible for that. It happened in my area of responsibility so I am the responsible officer for that strike. Moreover, I was under no pressure and no one in my chain of command below me was under any pressure to take that strike. We acted based on the intelligence read that we saw on the ground. We acted several times on intelligence that we saw and we were successful in other occasions in preventing attacks. This time tragically, we were wrong and you’re right to note that as we go forward in our ability to create what we call the ecosystem that allows you to see what’s going on on the ground and put all that together, it’s going to get a lot harder to do that, particularly in places like Afghanistan, but I can share a little more with you later.
Senator Kelly: (03:02:16)
Well thank you, General.
Mr. Reed: (03:02:18)
Thank you, Senator Kelly. Senator Tuberville, please.
Senator Tuberville: (03:02:20)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thanks for being here today. You’re part of the most powerful military in the world. I’ll ask all three of you this question and I know how you’re going to answer this. Is this any enemy that could defeat the strongest force in the world, the United States military? I know all of you are going to say no. So Secretary Austin, since your confirmation in January, have you been denied any resources with regards to Afghanistan? I think I heard you say earlier you’ve got everything you needed.
Sec. Austin: (03:02:47)
That’s correct, Senator.
Senator Tuberville: (03:02:48)
Yeah, thank you. On August 18th, you were asked why the US wouldn’t rescue Americans who couldn’t reach the airport. You responded, “I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently in Kabul.” We saw the Germans, the French, the British rescue citizens in Kabul, but from this administration which commands the world’s most lethal fighting force, we saw nothing but blame, weakness, and our American citizens were left to fend for themselves. Our fighting men and women have the courage, training, and discipline to defeat the enemy any time anywhere and there’s people all over this country wondering why in the heck would we let our allies get their people and we didn’t get ours. I want to thank all of the hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families who sacrificed over the past 20 years and I truly believe our soldiers didn’t fail us. A lot of our leadership did.
Senator Tuberville: (03:03:39)
Secretary Austin, before President Biden even took office, you thought we needed to leave Afghanistan. On January 19th, you told my colleague Senator [Shaheen 03:03:49], “I think this conflict needs to come to an end and we need to see an agreement reached and in accordance with what the President-elect wants to see.” You testified that General Milley and General Miller had adequate resources to secure Afghanistan at a troop level of 2500, but you told Senator Hawley you wanted to “assess the situation to make recommendations to the President.” I know how you’re going to answer this. Did you give advice to the President on the withdrawal from Afghanistan without conditions or is that the direction you got from him?
Sec. Austin: (03:04:25)
Again, my recommendations were a part of a very deliberate process where we presented a range of options for the President. If I could, Senator, I’d like to go back to the first comment that you made about the question that I answered for a reporter who asked, “Why don’t you go out and establish cordons and create safe passageways for our people just to move into the airport?” At that point early on in our deployment, we only had less than 4000 or about 4000 troops to secure and defend the airport. Our troop presence continued to grow as we flowed people in. We used a number of innovative approaches to go out and pick up and facilitate the entry of American citizens into the airport as the situation continued to develop, but just wanted to give you a little context for that answer.
Senator Tuberville: (03:05:29)
Well thank you. We’re all talking about did President Biden know all this and my question about withdrawal. Basically there’s two options. I can answer that. Either the President was given bad military advice or he gave his military the terrible decision and direction to surrender Afghanistan without condition. I’ll have some more here in a few minutes. I just wanted to make a couple of statements. The American people, especially people I represent, they’re disgusted by how this US surrender happened in Afghanistan. I know you’ve heard that yourselves, all three of you. American veterans are pissed off that their service was squandered. American allies are in disbelief, but American enemies are delighted. The Taliban are euphoric that the job that happened with our military given the orders to retreat. President Biden abandoned our allies who fought alongside us for 20 years. This administration left American citizens behind enemy lines.
Speaker 3: (03:06:32)
Who knew more than these guys did?
Senator Tuberville: (03:06:34)
We left $85 billion worth of equipment that the American taxpayers paid for. This administration created a sanctuary for terrorists to plot against United States for years and years to come. It’s just absolutely amazing that we did this. So I’ll end it there. I know these guys need to probably take a break, but we’ll see you after the break. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield my time.
Mr. Reed: (03:06:59)
Thank you very much, Senator Tuberville. We have completed the first round and as I indicated, we will break at one o’clock for lunch. So we’ll begin the second round. Secretary Austin, you said in response to Senator Warren that if we stayed past August 31st, we would certainly be back at war with the Taliban and that you’d have to reinforce yourself. Do I interpret your testimony to mean that staying at 2500 past the 31st was not sustainable at an acceptable level of risk to American personnel and that we would be seeing today casualties which could be accumulating at an unacceptable rate?
Sec. Austin: (03:07:41)
Chairman, I think the point that’s been left out of a lot of the conversation is that had we stayed past that date that was agreed upon early on, that the Taliban would begin to attack us, attack our forces there. We’d have to make some decisions on how to reinforce our forces so that we could continue to operate and that would include quite possibly increasing the force there.
Mr. Reed: (03:08:09)
Now, in the Doha Agreement, President Trump agreed to leave with certain conditions on May 1st. Those conditions have been testified by the panel that were really never achieved, never challenged by the Trump administration. Would you consider that an abdication of or a surrender, that agreement?
Sec. Austin: (03:08:37)
I certainly believe that the conditions were preset and again, we met, lived up to all the things that we were obliged to do. We didn’t attack them and we drew down our forces, but the Taliban, the only thing that they lived up to was that they didn’t attack us.
Mr. Reed: (03:08:59)
And we saw a great deal of difficulty in meeting the deadline which was August 31st. Would it appear to you that a May 1st deadline as President Trump imagined would have caused more complications in terms of getting our equipment out, getting our personnel out, identifying Americans who were eligible to leave and getting them the paperwork since you would be doing it at a much shorter timeframe?
Sec. Austin: (03:09:32)
Yeah, I don’t think that would have been feasible to do that in an orderly fashion, Chairman.
Mr. Reed: (03:09:37)
Thank you very much. General Milley, regardless of whether the Taliban had met the conditions required under Doha, weren’t you already in a trajectory to go to zero forces, as I said, by May 1st as required by the agreement when the President took over so that you actually would have accelerated the process of withdrawal and complicated it more, similar to my question to the Secretary?
General Milley: (03:10:04)
Yes, we were actually given an order to go to zero by 15 January which was changed to go to 2500 by 15 January and then taken down to zero by 1 May depending on the decisions of the new administration.
Mr. Reed: (03:10:14)
Thank you. General Milley, your prepared testimony indicates that the Biden administration through the National Security Council process conducted a rigorous inter-agency review of the situation in Afghanistan in February, March, and April in which the views of senior military leadership were all given serious consideration by the administration. You also testified that you received an order in November 2020 you just referred to to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Was that November order similarly informed by a rigorous inter-agency review?
General Milley: (03:10:49)
Mr. Reed: (03:10:51)
So that was basically I think-
General Milley: (03:10:56)
Secretary Esper submitted his recommendations in a written format on the 9th, the day that he was relieved, and 48 hours later, we received a written order to go to zero by 15 January.
Mr. Reed: (03:11:08)
I think … General McKenzie, again, your advice with regard to maintaining 2500 troops has been reiterated repeatedly, but you also recommended in the fall of 2020 4000 troops. Was that correct?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:11:32)
Sir, that is correct. I recommended that we … In the fall of 2020 when we were having deliberations, I recommended that we hold at that level.
Mr. Reed: (03:11:39)
And that was rejected by the Trump administration?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:11:42)
Sir, it was.
Mr. Reed: (03:11:43)
And there was no recriminations against you or anyone else? That was the President of the United States making a decision based on his view of the world?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:11:57)
In so far as I know, that’s correct, sir.
Mr. Reed: (03:11:59)
Thank you very much. Again, adhering to the five-minute rule, I will cede back eight seconds to [inaudible 03:12:08].
Mr. Inhofe: (03:12:10)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. One good way to judge any president’s decision is whether it’s made America and people safer. Generals, I’ll ask all three of you. You have both noted that the Taliban has not severed its relationship with Al-Qaeda. President Biden stated on July 8th that Al-Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan. I’d ask you is Al-Qaeda gone from Afghanistan? Generals?
Sec. Austin: (03:12:50)
Senator, I think there are remnants of Al-Qaeda still in Afghanistan.
Mr. Inhofe: (03:12:57)
Does anyone believe that Al-Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan? President Biden stated at the United Nations recently that this nation is no longer at war. Is it your personal view that Al-Qaeda is no longer at war with us? Start at the right, General.
General Milley: (03:13:18)
I believe Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. I believe they have aspirations to reconstitute and if they develop the capability, I believe that they have aspirations to strike. It’s too early in the process right now, Senator, to determine the capability, but I do believe the-
Mr. Inhofe: (03:13:35)
Do you believe that the personal view that was stated, that Al-Qaeda is no longer at war with us right now? Okay.
General Milley: (03:13:43)
I think Al-Qaeda is at war with the United States still and never has not-
Mr. Inhofe: (03:13:47)
Thank you. Does a withdrawal from Afghanistan increase or decrease the likelihood of an Al-Qaeda or ISIS attack on the US homeland?
General Milley: (03:14:00)
You asking me, Senator?
Mr. Inhofe: (03:14:01)
General Milley: (03:14:02)
My view is that it makes it much more difficult for us to conduct intelligence surveillance reconnaissance find-fix functions and then we can strike almost from anywhere in the world, but the find-fix function, it’s more difficult. We can still do it. It’s not impossible-
Mr. Inhofe: (03:14:19)
General Milley: (03:14:19)
… but it’ll make it more difficult.
Mr. Inhofe: (03:14:21)
General Milley and General McKenzie, we entrusted security to the Taliban, but they failed to prevent the ISIS-K suicide bomber on August 26th. We don’t really even know if they wanted to prevent it. Now, we’re in the same situation trusting the Taliban to prevent attacks. The Senator from Missouri brought up and talked again about the fact of what is the situation right now and I think we don’t really after this several hours have an answer to that. I do want to bring something in the record that I don’t think has been put in the record already. That is the conditions under which the previous president after making the statement about the Taliban. Not only did the previous president have conditions and the conditions included having a presence, a military presence, but they also had four other things that were stated that was conditions. One, to prevent Al-Qaeda and the terrorists from threatening the United States from Afghanistan. Secondly, to make statements and commandments to its members against threatening the United States. Thirdly, deny residence and visas and passports to those threatening the United States’ allies. Fourthly, begin negotiations with the Afghan government.
Mr. Inhofe: (03:15:59)
Those were conditions that were made at that time and this has been stated several times. It’s my opinion and the opinion of many who have testified at this hearing, that there were no conditions. I believe that is the case. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Reed: (03:16:23)
Thank you, Senator [Imhofe 03:16:24]. Senator Shaheen, please.
Sen. Shaheen: (03:16:26)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Austin, I’m going to go back to my question earlier about the records that special immigrant visa applicants really need in order to qualify for those visas and there’s not been a real good process through DOD to ensure that they get those records. Is that something that the department is looking at and would you be willing to work with this committee or others to see if we could set up a process that would ensure that those folks who worked with our men and women actually have the documentation they need to show that? I know that one of the challenges is that many of those records have been destroyed, but I would hope there’s some way that we can ensure that those people are able to get the documentation they need to come to this country?
Sec. Austin: (03:17:20)
Senator, let me first say that I absolutely agree with you that the process is onerous and that we need to do something to make it easier for those people that have helped us to prove that they have in fact worked with us before. One of my departments in defense is working to try to find ways to propose ways to truncate the process or come up with alternative means to demonstrate that they have worked with us in the past. To answer your question, we would absolutely welcome working with the committee on this.
Sen. Shaheen: (03:18:00)
Thank you. I assume we should contact your office to find who the appropriate contact person would be.
Sec. Austin: (03:18:08)
Well we’ll contact your office and let you know who he is, Senator.
Sen. Shaheen: (03:18:13)
Okay. General Milley and General McKenzie, it’s long been publicly reported that the Pakistani intelligence services have maintained a close and continuing relationship with the Taliban. Do we expect that relationship to become more complicated now that the Taliban is in power? Are we concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the potential that terrorist groups might be able to get access to those weapons? Can you talk a little bit about how you see the relationship with Pakistan and the Taliban playing out and the challenges that presents for the United States? I’ll start … Which one of you would like to answer that?
General Milley: (03:19:02)
Go ahead, Frank. I’ll follow you.
Gen. McKenzie: (03:19:05)
Senator, some of this we can talk in a little bit more detail in the closed session.
Sen. Shaheen: (03:19:09)
Gen. McKenzie: (03:19:09)
But I would tell you that I believe Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban is going to become significantly more complicated as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In fact, they’re going to see pressure moving into Pakistan from Afghanistan in ways that they’ve been able to deflect before because of the pressure that we and our allies had then. So I think that’s a significant problem that Pakistan is going to face. I’d like to talk about their special weapons perhaps in the closed session. As has been noted by several people, in order to get to Afghanistan, you have to fly over Pakistan unless you come from the north and that’s a subject of continuing deliberation with Pakistan and I can shed a little bit more light on that going forward, but they’ve actually … Over the last 20 years, we’ve been able to use what we call the air boulevard to go in over western Pakistan and that’s become something that’s vital to us as well as certain landlines of communication. We’ll be working with the Pakistanis in the days and weeks ahead to look at what that relationship’s going to look like in the future, but I can again talk a little more in the closed session.
Sen. Shaheen: (03:20:09)
Thank you. General Milley, did you want to add to that?
General Milley: (03:20:11)
Yeah, I’ve had several conversations over the years and also recently with Pakistanis and there’s no question in my mind that the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban is going to become increasingly complex. There’s a whole series of issues there that have national security interest for the United States that are best handled in a different session.
Sen. Shaheen: (03:20:27)
Okay. Thank you. Well can you, and Secretary Austin, can you talk about what we’re doing to work with our European counterparts who, based on conversations that I’ve had with some of the civilians from our NATO allies, there was some frustration about the communication that led to the withdrawal and the evacuation? Are we working to rebuild those relationships? Do you see that frustration reflected in the military relationships that you have?
Sec. Austin: (03:21:00)
I don’t, Senator, and …